I can say with 100% certainty that there is nothing at which I am an expert. There are, however, a few things of which I am incredibly passionate about. Orca whales are one of those things. While there are topics worth biting my tongue over, this is one passion I freely share my firm opinion on.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
The story of the whale trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida that was killed by a captured orca whale – more commonly known as the “killer whale” – has reached all corners of the globe since Wednesday afternoon’s tragedy. An event such as this one naturally triggers a landslide of questions. Perhaps the most commonly asked question is simply: how could this happen?
Dawn Brancheau was an experienced trainer, having worked with these magnificent mammals for 16 years. The whale at the centre of this story is a 12,000 pound male named Tillicum, a creature that Dawn was incredibly familiar with and one whom she had created a working relationship with through training. So what provoked Tillicum to drag Dawn under the water and into an untimely and heart-rending death?
The question of how this could have happened seems, to me, to have a rather simple reasoning. Orca whales, like any animal on this planet, is at its core a wild animal. No amount of domestication can ensure a human’s ultimate safety around animals – whether we’re dealing with whales and dolphins or cats and dogs. As an expert in her field, I have no doubt that Dawn was fully aware of the daily risks she took in working with Tillicum. While what happened is wholly unfortunate, at the end of the day it can’t be unexpected either.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
Many news reports that have come out in the wake of this event have suggested that it’s likely Tillicum simply thought of Dawn as a “toy” and was merely playing with her. Though defined as predatory, orca whales (which are actually a species of dolphin, not whale) aren’t generally thought to be a threat to humans and are, more often than not, peaceful creatures. That said, it can be contended that Tillicum was simply doing what comes naturally to him. If, on the other hand, what happened was rooted in aggression, we could consider his environment a chief contributing factor.
Oceanic mammals were created with the sea as their home and playground. To pluck them from the deep blue and confine them to the equivalent of a bathtub will surely have an effect. Imagine, if you will, being contained in a single room, left to circle endlessly while people peered in through windows on all four sides. It would be enough to drive you mad, wouldn’t it?
And so the great debate regarding whales in captivity has kicked up again and everyone is sure to have an opinion. Scientists claim that capturing whales is the best way by which to study them and learn of their nature and habits in order to assist in conservation programs. It would seem to me that the most effective environment to study whale behavior regarding conservation is in the wild. But then again, what do I know? I’m not an orca expert, just an orca lover.
Contribute your two cents: Do you think keeping whales in captivity is an acceptable practice? Should they be released into the wild?
British Columbians are fortunate to live in a part of the world that is so deeply steeped in natural beauty around every tree, under ever rock and in every ocean current. This could not be more true, however, than for the residents of Vancouver Island. The abundance of wildlife that call the Island and its surrounding waters home is astounding.
Photo: MagicLens on Flickr
Etched into the eastern shores of northern Vancouver Island is the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. Named after a man famously known for identifying and photographing the countless pods of killer whales that call the area home, Robson Bight has been a Provincially-sanctioned reserve to protect the local killer whale population since 1982. The name Robson comes from Lieutenant Commander Charles Rufus Robson who died in Victoria, BC in 1861.
Photo: BC Parks
Stretching over 1200 hectares of shoreline, all boats are forbidden from entering the reserve and the park area around it is restricted to non-destructive recreational activities such as hiking and photography. Fishing, camping and hiking are strictly forbidden. These regulations are key in creating a safe refuge for these gentle giants.
Photo: Traveler’s Voice
While it is unclear exactly how many killer whales and their pods travel up and down British Columbia’s shores, what is known is how drastically they’re being affected by the fishing industry, toxic waste, boating and sonar interference (as whales rely on this method of communication with each other).
Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins/Nature’s Best Photography
Robson Bight Ecological Reserve is perhaps best known in recent media as being the site of a tragic and preventable man-made disaster on August 20, 2007 when a barge illegally traveling through the sound lost its load, dumping 11 vehicles and pieces of forestry equipment into the water. The vehicles – and over 10,000 litres of diesel fuel – laid 350 metres below the surface for almost two years until it was recovered in May of this year.
Photo: Stubbs Island Sightings
Thankfully, the damage to the whales’ sanctuary was minimal. Crown prosecutors laid charges against Chemainus-based logging contractor Ted LeRoy Trucking, Campbell River’s Gowlland Towing and the skipper of the tugboat Kathy L in July, 2008.
Photo: Northern Lights Expeditions
While recreation in the area is extremely limited, the nearby community of Telegraph Cove is a hot spot for eco-tourism and nature-spotting with a focus on sea kayaking. Though it’s my personal belief that the killer whales should be left alone to bask in their natural environment free of interference, many of these sea kayaking ventures are careful to respect the area and give the killer whales a wide, safe berth. Keep in mind that even ecotourism is prohibited in Robson Bight, so all whale watching is done from a safe distance outside of the designated area.
Photo: Wildheart Adventures
Anyone lucky enough to have explored this area knows how precious the landscape is. Nothing lasts forever, and if we don’t take active steps to protect the land we call home, perhaps even this generation will see the day when what was will no longer be. The trees, the ocean, the air, the rocks and even the whales are gifts to us all and we must always be sure to view them as such – not to be taken for granted.
Photo: Our BC
To learn more about Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve, please visit BC Parks’ website. A guideline for viewing or encountering killer whales in the wild can be viewed here in PDF format. If you’re interested in adopting a killer whale and contributing to the conservation of the local population, please visit the British Columbia Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program.
In July of 2001, one life would change a sleepy town on the West Coast of Vancouver Island forever.
Killer Whale L98 – more affectionately known around the globe as Luna – emerged from the ocean waters and unknowingly impacted a community, an island, a province and a country. The life Luna lived was an incredible one, and the ripple effect he had has been captured in a touching documentary entitled Saving Luna.
Photo: Byron Bay Film Festival/Mountainside Films
Knowing that I have a deep love and affinity for killer whales, Becky invited me to a private screening of the film at the Vancouver Aquarium. Naturally, I accepted in a heartbeat.
What started as a three-week journalism assignment about a curious orca calf for the husband and wife team of Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit turned into a three-year adventure.
When Luna first showed up in the Gold River area of Nootka Sound, people were perplexed how such a young killer whale was surviving at his age – let alone thriving – all alone. But soon enough, local residents were keenly aware that Luna was reaching out…
Killer whales, by nature, are social creatures – very much like humans. And when Luna found himself surrounded by creatures who were unlike him, he seemingly made the choice to communicate and show affection. While some considered Luna to be a nuisance, countless others fell deeply in love with Nootka Sound’s newest resident.
It wasn’t long, however, before controversy began to stir at a fervent rate. Saving Luna tells the tale of a whale, of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s decision to attempt to relocate Luna back with his pod, a community’s battle to adopt the whale and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations’ deep desire to protect a creature that was so affectingly respected and understood.
Despite years of ongoing efforts, on March 10, 2006 Luna collided with the propeller of a local tug boat. He did not survive.
More than two years after Luna’s death, to this day no one truly seems to know why Luna graced the world with his presence. His playful antics and seemingly magical effect have been greatly mourned. Saving Luna begs many questions of its viewers: should Luna have rejoined his pod? Should he have remained in Nootka Sound where he chose to make his home and communicate with human beings? And most importantly, what does Luna represent in consideration of the love, affection and attention we as mammals all have an innate need for?
The film was concluded with a panel discussion including the film’s producers/directors, Jamie James of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band, a member of the DFO and esteemed staff of the Vancouver Aquarium. If you’d like to find out more about this very special documentary, visit Saving Luna‘s official website and view the trailer on YouTube.
P.S. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. By the time the credits rolled, there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre.
In August, I made mention of a fast-growing oil slick in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. The protected waterway, which is banned even to kayakers and other recreational activities, was home to a toxic spill that spanned more than 14 kilometres after an overturned barge dumped a gross amount of diesel fuel.
The damage caused by the spill was, undoubtedly, devastating, but just as tragic was the lack of action taken by the Provincial Government to have the spill immediately cleaned up.
Photo courtesy of makeupanid on Flickr
Only now, nearly four months after the spill, is a submersible being lowered into the waters of Robson Bight to evaluate the scope of the destruction. Victoria-based A-Channel news reported on current activities in the Bight:
A manned submersible aboard the Aurora Explorer freight vessel is lowered into the water above five targets that have been identified as possible wreckage. Pilot Jeff Heaton will descend 370 metres and document what’s left of the logging equipment with a high-definition camera…and hopefully provide answers.
Jim Borrowman, a volunteer Warden of the reserve believes the best possible scenario is the fuel truck at the bottom of the ocean is empty now, with no diesel left in it to do any more damage. On the other hand, points out Dorthea Hangaard of the Living Oceans Society, if there is still a substantial amount of fuel involved, it could also be sucked out without lifting the equipment to the surface.
Hopefully this will initiate a more thorough and formal investigation into what actually happened in the killer whale sanctuary. I will keep you updated if and when more information becomes available.
Looking for a way to get into the Christmas spirit and do something charitable?
Play Santa for the animals!
Photo courtesy of ChromaticRat on Flickr
“Shelter animals are prone to depression from loneliness and boredom. Toys very much help stimulate the mind and provide moments of joy and comfort,” said Rhonda Sherwood, volunteer co-ordinator for the Vancouver shelter.
Sherwood acknowledges that while toys may seem like a luxury for shelter animals, they offer necessary enrichment, without which behavioural problems could develop.”
The wish list is a full one, with a need for balls, squeaky toys, Frisbees, blankets, towels, food, treats and whatever else may encourage healthy growth in needy animals.
Please be reminded that shelters around British Columbia house and care for injured, neglected, lost or abandoned animals 365 days a year, so feel free to help out whenever you can.
And on a light end-note, my hunt for a new and fantastic mascara has come to an end. I’ve long been a user of Maybelline’s Full N’ Soft mascara, but it has of late been M.I.A. from the shelves at my local Shopper’s Drug Mart.
Last night I bit the bullet and shelled out for a pricier mascara, and after using it for the first time this morning, I’ve got to say that Smashbox’s Focal Point mascara is well worth the dough. Formulated with a special blend of waxes and polymers, it coats each lash individually, not as clumps. Yay!
Last week I reported that an overturned barge had dumped thousands of litres of diesel fuel into the protected waters of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve near the north end of Vancouver Island. Movement to get clean-up underway got off to a slow start, and local First Nation residents are expressing upset at how the spill was handled.
“We have a lot of knowledge of the area,” Chief Bill Cranmer said. “We’d also like to know what’s happening and what could be improved.”
Photos courtesy of CTV News.
The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, located on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island just south of Telegraph Cove, is a sanctuary dedicated to protecting, monitoring and studying the local killer whale habitat. It’s an area that’s completely closed to the public, including all non-destructive recreationalists.
Approximately 24 hours ago, a pod of 14 killer whales was spotted within the reserve swimming through an oil slick at an area estimated to be about two kilometres long at the time. Since then, the threat to the area has grown to an estimated 14 kilometres and is still growing. It’s thought that the cause of the toxic spill is that of an overturned barge which was carrying vehicular cargo near the area. It’s not yet been determined how the accident happened, but speculation has already begun that the barge itself was traveling through protected waters.
To hear stories like this enrages me to no end. I am so thankful that I’ve been blessed enough with the ability to appreciate the land, habitat and oceans that we as British Columbians have been endowed with. I can’t for the life of me understand why something like this can even happen, and it’s heartbreaking to think that anyone could possibly have such disregard for a precious commodity. If anything, instances such as this one should only serve the purpose of teaching us that we are the only ones responsible for protecting what we have. And that, I believe, begins with education. To learn more about this story, the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve or how you can help preserve British Columbia’s killer whale population, please follow the links below.
Photo courtesy of makeupanid on Flickr.
My friend Kyle and I met many, many years ago through his older brother Ryan. Kyle has long been fascinated with art, painting and drawing and his talent has never been lost on anyone. Recently Kyle lost a good friend of his in a tragic 4×4 quad accident. As a fitting tribute to his friend and the community they were all involved in, Kyle and a friend created the video below to honour and remember Keith Dickenson. If you have a minute, check it out. It’s a beautiful acknowledgment and, as always, Kyle’s skill blows me away. He’s the one in the plaid shirt and jaunty little cap.
This weekend my “baby” brother turns 23. Exciting, isn’t it? I managed to order his custom, one-of-a-kind birthday present today. He’d better like it too or I’ll have to kick him in the shins. It means I’ll be making the trek home yet again this Friday, the third time this month. Truth be told, I don’t mind one bit.
Speaking of truths, I’ve been feeling terribly anti-social lately. Nothing excites me more than my TV and pajamas. Except maybe sleep. Sleep is really exciting!
P.S. Mom, don’t you think that adopting a killer whale would make a great birthday present for someone special other than Trevor? I do.