In 1987, Orcas Had A Fashion Of Wearing A Dead Salmon As A Hat

For one summer only, a strange trend spread around several pods.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

An orca, wearing a badly-photoshopped salmon as a hat.

It's called fashion, look it up.

Image credit: Dan Thornberg/, wildestanimal/, IFLScience. 

Orcas are the unlikely subject of memes at the moment after a number of attacks on boats in Europe led experts to believe they were teaching calves how to target the rudder and stop the vessels.

Memes have mainly focused on the "orcanize" pun, the idea of the orcas rising up against humans, and killer whales being communists.


Orcas themselves are not immune from memes and cultural trends, as shown by (among many other things) the dead salmon hat trend of 1987. 

In the Puget Sound area of the northeast Pacific, one female orca from k-pod began carrying a dead salmon around on her nose. Over the next 5-6 weeks, the behavior spread, and by the end of it, orcas from her own and two other pods were wearing dead salmon hats. Then all of a sudden, the fad was over. Bar a few times the following summer – latecomers, like humans just now deciding to wear Uggs – the trend has never been seen again.


Orca playing with dead salmon, rather than using them as a hat.

Less adorable (well, from the perspective of non-salmon) cultural behaviors seen in killer whales in the Salish Sea include harassing porpoises and sometimes killing them.


“They do not eat the porpoise," science and research director at Wild Orca, Deborah Giles, told Atlas Obscura, "they just kind of play with them to death."

Just off the west coast of the USA, juvenile orcas have been seen playing with fishing equipment, moving crab and prawn traps and wrapping themselves up in lines, perhaps as a game.

“Killer whales do have fads that come and go, and they're often most prevalent among certain sex and age classes in the population. Then, over time, they tend to disappear,” director of Bay Cetology, Jared Towers, told Discover.

“I'm certainly hoping that's what happens with this behavior. But it's been going on for a few years now. So, we're not quite sure what to expect.”


Some of these cultural behaviors which prove useful may be passed down for generations, while others – like the salmon hats – fade away and are forgotten.

[H/T: Atlas Obscura]


  • tag
  • animals,

  • animal behavior,

  • whales,

  • cetaceans,

  • orca,

  • killer whales,

  • weird and wonderful