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Orca Awareness Month

Updated on October 9, 2014

A Holiday about Education and Action to Save the Orca Whales

Here in Washington State, the orca has become something of an icon. Our resident pods of orca whales (known as the Southern Resident orcas) were listed as endangered in November of 2005. No one knows exactly how many are left, estimates are in the 80's.

In February of 2009, then-Governor Christine Gregoire declared June to be Orca Awareness Month, and all up and down the western Washington coast communities came together to celebrate, educate, and take action. From parades to kayaking to teach-ins, everyone is invited to participate and become more aware of the necessity of our role as stewards of these magnificent sea mammals.

Our current governor, Jay Inslee, is carrying on the tradition.

Come learn more about these beauties and join the celebration.

Photo Credit

orca king of the sea sculpture
orca king of the sea sculpture

NW Original Inhabitants and the Orca Whale

Hunter, guardian, and king of the sea

The First Nations of the NW coast honor and respect the orca whale. Orcas and humans both hunt salmon. The native cultures understand the orca's role as not only hunter but guardian of the sea, and assumed that role themselves.

The sculpture in the picture is located at the Stanley Park Aquarium in Vancouver, BC, Canada and was created by renowned native artist Bill Reid. Part of the symbolism in the art and sculpture of this region is of this reliance, respect, and sharing amongst all creatures. The depiction of animals and humans within animals and humans. Carvings within carvings, pictures within pictures. The circle of life, and none exemplifies this more than the life of the orca, for indeed, the salmon and the sea is a common bond between humans and orcas.

When resident orca pods (family groups) declined in numbers alarmingly, people took notice and took action.

Luna the Lonely Orca - trying to communicate with a dog

Luna/L98 was a male southern resident orca who died March 10, 2006 when he was hit by a large tug boat in Nootka Sound. Luna lived a solitary life when he found himself alone hundreds of miles away from his feeding grounds. He was filmed and photographed numerous times as he tried to make contact with other beings.

The southern resident orcas eat primarily salmon; it's the transients that kill sea mammals and other animals, even birds occasionally, for food. So this dog is not in danger; the orca is trying to "talk" and play with the dog, not grab it and drag it into the water.

Birth of Orca Awareness Month

In 2005 the ESA included orca whales on their endangered species list. Recognizing the need for immediate action to save the orcas, Governor Gregoire issued a proclamation in 2006 naming June as Orca Awareness Month.

This year is the 6th year of its signing and more activities are planned than ever before to raise awareness of the plight of the orcas. Orcas are impacted by pollution, boat traffic, and decreasing numbers in the salmon population.

From Port Townsend to Camino Island, San Juan Island to Whidbey Island, there were walks, talks, parades, and "sings" all to praise, celebrate, educate, alarm, and activate citizens of all walks of life. Laws are in place to limit sightseers and boat owners access to the whales. We've learned how construction, pollution, boats, and most importantly, the salmon, all affect the health of the orcas. Many organizations work together to study, track, and protect the whales.

Who wouldn't want to communicate with an orca? - Only at SeaWorld do they keep them captive...

but you can remind yourself how intelligent, communicative, and friendly they are.

The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna
The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna

Read Luna's complete story, of how friendship sometimes has to be smuggled in and can even get you arrested!

 

Mother and Baby

mother orca and baby poster
mother orca and baby poster

Education is the Key!

Here are a few organizations that can help you learn about orcas and get involved:

Center for Whale Research -- For over three decades, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has been conducting annual photo-identification studies of the Southern Resident Killer whale (SRKW) population that frequents the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia.

Orca Network -- Orca Network is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization registered in Washington State, dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.

Scientific Papers -- Most scientific inquiry into cetacean natural history and cultures has been conducted in the following general categories. Follow these portals to see abstracts and summaries.

The Orca Project -- A New Zealand organization working to protect orca & their habitat, through conservation, education & scientific research.

The Whale Museum and SoundWatch -- Providing stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem for 30 years through education and research.

Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School -- Beam Reach is an off-campus adventure that lets advanced undergrads and recent graduates live the life of a marine biologist. It's a 10-week taste of what it's like to be a graduate student or a professional field scientist.

Save our Wild Salmon -- Founded in 1991, Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS) is a nationwide coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sports fishing associations, businesses, river groups, and taxpayer advocates working collectively to restore self-sustaining, abundant, and harvestable populations of wild salmon and steelhead to rivers, streams and oceans of the Pacific Salmon states.

Friends of the San Juans -- FRIENDS of the San Juans is a public-interest organization dedicated to protecting the land, water, sea and livability of the San Juan Islands for people and wildlife.

Orca Lab -- In 1970, Dr. Paul Spong founded OrcaLab, a small land based whale research station nestled against the evergreen forest of Hanson Island in the waters of the "Inside Passage" of northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Puget Soundkeeper -- A team of dedicated staff and citizen volunteers protecting and preserving Puget Sound by monitoring, cleaning up and preventing pollutants from entering its waters.

Kayaking with Orcas

Orca: Visions of the Killer Whale
Orca: Visions of the Killer Whale

This is a book for older readers that combines a poet's appreciation with a scientist's analysis. From ancient cultures to modern day science, the author exposes the orca in all their beauty, power, playfulness, and gentle ways.

 

Some Fascinating Orca Facts

- Orcas travel in family groups, called pods. Orca mothers and babies stay within shouting distance of each other for life.

- Male orcas average 19 to 22 feet (6 to 7 meters) in length. Male orcas weigh, on average, 8,000 to 12,000 pounds (3,600 to 5,500 kilograms).

- Females average 16 to 19 feet (5 to 6 meters) long and weigh 3,000 to 8,000 pounds (1,400 to 3,600 kilograms).

- Transient and resident orcas are distinctly different cultures; DNA testing has determined that they have not crossbred for a minimum of 100,000 years. The most marked difference between them is in their diets - residents eat only squid and fish, transients eat only mammals (seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and even other whales)

Capturing Orca Whales

There are laws concerning orcas in captivity. Many claims are made that orcas should not be kept in captivity.

Former SeaWorld trainer Jeffrey Ventre believes he was fired because he became critical of SeaWorld's treatment of orcas. He now speaks out openly against their captivity, and believes that orca are best observed in their natural habitat.

The first video is from the early 1970s portraying their capture. The second is of viewing them in the wild.

Orca Pod

orca pod
orca pod

Orca Network

Orca Network celebrates the orcas in June by

- sponsoring community events throughout the maritime NW, with book signings and complimentary copies of "Orcas in our Midst", music, and refreshments

-co-sponsoring intimate evenings of conversation, photos, wine, good food, and stories about Southern Resident orcas with the Center for Whale Research

-showing the film "The Whale" about a lost L-pod orca named Luna and the famous film "Blackfish".

-speaking engagements throughout the area

male and female orca whales
male and female orca whales | Source

Recent study offers fascinating evidence about female killer whales

According to this study of 589 individually identifiable animals, of which 297 died during the study period, whales with long-lived mothers survived longer, especially sons. This is because sons stay with their mothers their entire lives, benefiting from foraging help and support during conflicts.

Yet another reason to argue for the release of wild orcas from captivity. How humane is it to keep such a social, intelligent animal captive in a small tank?

Read more about this interesting orca whale study.

Photo Credit

June 2013 is the 7th Annual Orca Awareness Month - 84 Southern Resident Orcas remain

orca porpoising
orca porpoising | Source

Washington State's new governor, Jay Inslee, has declared June 2013 to be Orca Awareness Month once again. It's year seven and the orcas are still hanging in there, precarious but surviving.

Orca Network has posted this month's education and awareness activities on their website, and also are offering a daily "tidbit" of information about the whales, from their history to present day locations and migrations. Understanding orcas is crucial to realizing how fragile their population is today and how this has come about.

Their size, speed, intelligence, and complex social organization were what made them almost invincible in their environment, but now their numbers have been depleted so drastically by shooting and capture for entertainment, pollution, depletion of salmon, military training exercises, and vessel noise that something as normal as several El Nino years can cause critical damage to the population.

Please read more about Orca Network and these amazing creatures. Education is power!

May we continue to celebrate Orca Awareness Month each and every year.

Have I hooked you on orcas yet? - Let me know what you think you can do to help them survive.

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    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      They are beautiful creatures! Thanks for the lens.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I didn't know about them traveling in pods as you describe. Thanks for the education. I'd love to go whale watching as in the video.

    • profile image

      What_to_Know 5 years ago

      I love orca's this is a great month for awareness

    • Kathryn Beach profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Wallace 5 years ago from Greenbank, WA, USA

      @Wednesday-Elf: And thank you for visiting and leaving such a friendly comment. To clarify: not all orcas are endangered, just the southern resident pods, since they number somewhere around 80 members. We don't know for certain because some just go missing for a while, some never show back up.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      What you have done is make ME Aware of the plight of the Orca whale as I did not know they were now considered an endangered species. This page is perfect for educating all of us about the Orcas. Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful job.