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In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in 1819, Owen Chase is standing on a slowly sinking ship. It’s just been headbutted by an 85 foot whale. It’s taking in water. And now the creature is coming back for another go. This is a whaling ship, and Chase is convinced that he observes “fury and vengeance” in the animal.

In 2010, an orca is performing for a crowd at SeaWorld – but he misses his mark and so he doesn’t get his reward. That’s when he grabs hold of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, and pulls her under water. By the time he’s finished, her savaged body has multiple fractures and dislocations. And her scalp has been ripped off.

To some observers, these whales were surely out for revenge. But how much is what we think we understand about the natural world shaped by human guilt?

For a full list of sources, see the show notes at

The Host

Tim Harford

Tim Harford’s long-running column in the Financial Times, “The Undercover Economist,” reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences. His first book, The Undercover Economist, was published in 30 languages and sold…