Last week, we reviewed the industrial slaughter that pushed our large whales to the brink of extinction.
As whales became harder to find, their renderings were replaced by petroleum distillates. We shifted gears from industrial whaling to whaling for family entertainment.
The orca became the target species. The orca, also known as Killer Whales, are actually a member of the dolphin family. Orca were revered by the Native Americans as the reincarnated spirits of their loved ones and chiefs who had passed on.
Initially, only a few orca were killed by scientists, who harpooned them and cut them open to learn what they ate. Later, these intelligent, friendly, family-oriented creatures became the raw material to feed an insatiable appetite of the public for the ancient spectacle of captured wild animals in cages performing tricks for our enjoyment.
In 1965, two orca were entangled in a fishing net on Vancouver Island. One survived. A male named Namu was moved to a pen on the Seattle waterfront. Namu swam in the raw sewage of Elliott Bay for a year before dying from a bacterial infection.
Namu was so popular that, in 1970, a super pod of between 90 and 100 orca — representing what could have been the entire Southern Resident orca population — were rounded up with the aid of explosives, speedboats and airplanes, and trapped in a 3-acre net pen at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. Orca families were separated. Seven orca calves were forced into slings and loaded onto trucks to begin their lives in captivity in sea parks.
Some of the seven orca that were eventually sold to various sea parks only lived a few months.
All of these captured orca are now dead, except one.
Lolita was sold for about $20,000 to the Miami Seaquarium, where she’s lived in an 80- by 60-foot concrete pool that’s bisected by a work island ever since 1970.
Her partner, Hugo, another captured orca, died in 1980 after repeatedly ramming his head against the side of the tank.
As a result of these captures, people realized the orca were worth money.
The state of Washington began selling $1,000 permits to capture them. Eventually, between 275 and 307 orca were caught in British Columbia and Washington — 55 were sold to aquariums. While there are no firm estimates on how many orca died in the capture operations, four humans have been killed by captive orcas. These creatures have never attacked humans in the wild.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 banned capturing orca.
Still, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted SeaWorld permission to capture orca under an economic hardship exemption.
In 1976, Washington state sued SeaWorld for violating its permits due to the violence of hunting, herding, capture and transportation of the orca.
At some point, even the scientists admitted that capturing the orca was a likely factor in depressing their population and altering their familial structures in a manner that would severely affect their reproduction and survival. The scientists continued their research.
Biologists have long been known to subject animals to horrific cruelty in their search for knowledge.
They used a different kind of harpoon, this time to stick the orcas with satellite-linked transmitters to track them, which caused fungal infections that led to the deaths of two orca in 2016.
One of the orca was found dead in the water with chunks of a tracking dart still in its fin. Another tagging victim was found washed up on a beach.
All of which added biologists to the long list of environmental threats to the survival of the orca.
Next week: We review efforts of the Orca Task Force to save the orca.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].