orca speaking into microphone in man's hand

Raycocar/Shutterstock Alfonso de Tomas/Shutterstock (Licensed) Remix by Caterina Cox

‘Debate me, boats’: A Photoshopped image of an orca with a microphone gives killer whales a new voice

A convergence of recent events gave the orca its voice.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

For the past few weeks, several stories about orcas attacking and sinking several yachts owned by some of the richest people in the world went viral. They captivated the internet’s attention, with much of it taking the orcas’ side. But with the orca attacks continuing, a perfect storm of events led to the orca memes gaining new momentum as a now-viral photo shows one of them getting the microphone.

The photo looks like it could’ve been captured at a SeaWorld demonstration. An orca rests on the edge of a pool with someone holding a microphone up to its face as if to interview it; you could imagine a SeaWorld employee playing up this dynamic for the crowd.

But the image is Photoshopped. You can purchase a photo of the orca sans microphone on Amazon. And according to a Google Image search, the Photoshopped version initially appeared in a 2019 post about the Orca Awards, which has less to do with actual orcas and is more about annual accolades handed out by Diary of a Crossword Fiend, a crossword puzzle review blog. But a crossword puzzle Photoshop turning into the ultimate encapsulation of Orcas Striking Back is due to several factors.

The first one is the actual attacks, in which many people find it easy to root for the orcas because they’re responding to their environments being invaded by massive ships polluting their waters. To them, orcas gathering and teaching one another to attack the yachts make them formidable allies in the effort to eat the rich.

The second is an Atlantic op-ed published Saturday titled “Killer Whales Are Not Our Friends” by Jacob Stern that also told readers, “Stop rooting for the orcas ramming boats.” Screenshots of the op-ed went viral as people pointed out the apparent “bias” with Stern’s surname (the name of the back of a boat) and noted how its message made them root for the orcas even more.

And then the recent disappearance of the Titan, a submersible that was taking a tourism trip to see the wreckage of the Titanic and lost communication with the outside world, led some to speculate that orcas had something to do with that, too.


It’s highly unlikely that the orcas were involved in the submersible’s disappearance. And while some people are split on whether it’s OK to make jokes about the submersible vanishing given the life-threatening circumstances the people on board are facing (critics argue it’s in poor taste to make jokes when people’s lives are in danger), others find it an effective way to poke fun at or comment on several events at once.

But the image, which is entertaining even when devoid of context, is also effective in conveying the general eat-the-rich mentality behind the orcas’ recent attacks on yachts and pushing back on the message at the center of Stern’s op-ed.


Explaining the logic behind anything becomes easier, even when it doesn’t involve the yachts. And you don’t even need this one photo to do it. 

And orcas are also not immune to an old-fashioned Game of Thrones crossover.

The search for the submersible is ongoing, and the orca attacks don’t seem to be stopping, either. And neither will the memes trying to take on both.

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