Did you know there is a community of orcas around our coasts? Orcas (their name is Latin for ‘shape of a barrel or cask’) are actually dolphins (not whales), but you may know them best as ‘killer whales’. Orcas are one of the world’s great predators, their only danger is man (hunting, pollution, kidnapping them and taking them to live in SeaWorld etc). They have very big brains (like dolphins) and have no sense of smell but big appetites (they will attack sharks).
Orcas of the Salish Sea. Now this is more like it. A photographic summary of orcas, enjoying life in the wild. It also tells the story of Moby Doll (harpooned and shot on orders of Vancouver Aquarium in 1964 to display, who survived, circled in a pen for 2 months without eating, then died of shock a month later).
Most time in an orca’s life is spent hunting. They live in friendly pods (males never leave their mums, isn’t that sweet?) And along with humans and small-finned pilot whales, orcas are just one of just 3 species to go through menopause.
You are most likely to see orcas in northern waters and Scotland, and on the west coast facing Ireland. They swim very long distances while communicating to each other, you will easily recognise them by their black and white markings. But no calf has been sighted for 20 years, suggesting breeding is not as easy as before.
Orca Web says the main risks are pollution, fishing, noise pollution and ship strikes. Some countries (like Greenland) hunt them. Lulu the killer whale was found dead in the Hebrides, tangled in fishing line. An autopsy found that her body was full of manmade chemicals and pollution. It’s estimated that 50% of the world’s orcas could be wiped out, due to ocean pollution.
Recently in Spain and Portugal, pods of killer whales have been intentionally ramming boats, attacking them repeatedly for over an hour, and whistling to each other. Marine biologists are mystified, but believe it could be that the fishermen are taking too much bluefish tuna, which is their primary food source, leaving them not enough to feed their calves. Orcas (like dolphins) are highly intelligent, so will be well aware when they see boats carrying fish.
Others believe that the return of noisy fishing boats after months of peace during the COVID pandemic, has made them agitated. Biologist Alfredo López noticed two of the orcas had boat injuries, and wonders if this is a defence mechanism, to prevent others in the pod getting hurt.
If you take your children to Florida, bypass the marine spectacles at places like SeaWorld and boycott commercial orca & dolphin venues. It may look fun to a child, but the truth is quite heart-breaking. As mentioned above, the bond between a calf and his/her mother is immense (one mother was seen pushing her dead calf on a ‘tour of grief for over 1500km for over 2 weeks, before she finally let go). Orcas at SeaWorld have often been captured from the wild, can you imagine the grief of the mother and calf? They naturally stay together for life, in the wild.
Most orcas in captivity live in areas the size of a bathtub by ratio to us, and often get sunburn, as their backs poke out of shallow waters. Most breeding is done by humans masturbating the males, to artificially extract semen. What lack of dignity for this magnificent creature. One orca in a European aquarium recently tried to beach itself out of the water. Welfare campaigners wondered if it was trying to commit suicide, as it was so miserable). Some have been photographed with humans using them as ‘living surfboards’. There are videos online of captive orcas filmed ‘the rest of the time’. When not performing, most are just displaying ‘gone mad’ stereotypical behaviour going round and round a small tank, which is how they spend their lives for decades, when not performing tricks for tourists.
Tilikum was captured from his ocean home in 1983, in Iceland. He and two others were caught in a net and sent to live in SeaWorld, where his story became a real cause to end orcas in captivity. This large bull orca tragically drowned 3 people, presumably due to stress. There has never been a recorded fatal attack on a human, from a wild orca.
The Spirit of Springer is the true story of the remarkable rescue of an orphaned orca calf, who was found swimming alone in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. After identifying her as a member of a family of Northern Resident orcas off the coast of British Columbia, a team of scientists worked together against all odds, to save her from starvation and reunite her with her family. After being held in a pen for monitoring, the keepers opened the gate as other orcas went by, and she went ‘charging off’, swimming straight towards the others. Apparently the family bunched together in confusion at first, then swam off, expecting her to follow them. At first she could not keep up but soon did, and formed a bond with a new ‘surrogate mother’, and has since given birth to two calves of her own.
- Keiko was the captive whale in the film Free Willy, about people releasing a captive whale. Due to the outcry over him being captive, he was released, but never adapted to living in the wild. He apparently was found trying to find children to ride on his back, and died in Norway of pneumonia, a year after his release.
- The Whale Sanctuary Project wants Lolita released from a Miami aquarium, where she was taken after being captured from the wild over 50 years ago. Since the death of her friend Hugo (who slammed his head against a wall 10 years ago), she now lives alone. Yet when people played calls from her wild family, she appeared to recognise them. It gives hope she could safely be returned to them.
- Due to public outcry, Russia recently released orcas and beluga whales from a ‘whale jail’. And while ‘progressive countries’ like the US won’t release miserable orcas due to the tourist income (often from UK visitors), these burly Russians risked life and limb to free orcas from trapped ice (the 4th final one was rescued after filming).