“Eeeeee.” Namu (the first healthy killer whale ever captured)
“What happened is that all those years I am wanting an animal to say hello, and one has. I am thunderstruck.” Ted Griffin
From 1965 through 1976, exhibitors captured nearly 300 orcas from Puget Sound to train them to entertain tourists around the world. All of them are dead today except one, Lolita, who is held in the Miami Seaquarium. Before the abductions, the Sound may have supported a population of more than 1,000. Today only 75 swim in these waters. In July, 2018 the first calf born in three years died after living only an hour.
Earlier this year aboard the Celebrity Reflection, the naturalist, Celia Garland, mentioned the Puget Sound orcas to us, lamenting their plight. Today, they travel in three family groups, pod j with 22 members, pod k with 18, and pod l with 35.
No longer are they killed as a competitor to the fisherman. No longer are they abducted to toil in tanks entertaining tourists. They are protected as an endangered species. The Puget Sound orcas, the most endangered orca, face new challenges as their population recovered from a low of 71 in 1976 at the time their harvesting stopped, to a high of 98 in 1998. However, since then the population has declined to the 75 as of the beginning of the year.
Their principal current threat centers around the decline in the salmon population in the Sound. Water contamination and boat traffic also have effected their recovery. Climate change issues may also add to their survival factors. Maybe a ray of hope for the orcas can be seen in 2019 births of two calves, both still alive. Excluding Lolita, the two new births combined with a death, has moved the official census to 76.
As disheartening as the plight of the Puget Sound orcas, Lolita’s history is even worse, as her Floridian owners refuse to release her, as she remains their headliner. Taken captive at age five, she has lived nearly five decades as the meal ticket for her owners. In an undersized tank shared with abusive dolphins, she could suffer another fifty years in captivity, as orcas can live in excess of one hundred years.
From the Seattle airport to Victoria, Canada can be transited in several ways. The fastest and easiest route requires just a short one hour flight. Driving, with a car ferry ride also works. You could take the Amtrak train to Vancouver, then a short ferry to Victoria. Several years ago we greatly enjoyed the Amrtak train to Vancouver, which hugs the coastline, where we saw hundreds of bald eagles.
Having flown the trans continental route yesterday, we declined the flight to Victoria. The train to Vancouver, though truly spectacular, would use up most of the day and therefore, we also discarded that option. Renting a car seem rather silly as the vehicle’s utility would be limited once on the island. We selected a pre six in the morning Uber ride from the airport hotel to the Seattle waterfront, where we would take the 7:30 passenger ferry, the Victoria Clipper. She passes through the Puget Sound to Victoria, and we hoped for a remote chance to encounter one of the Puget Sound orca pods. Below is a marketing photo of the Clipper and an encounter with a local celebrity. Luck did not allow us see them today, but on Friday we will pursue them on a whale watching excursion.
Nearly thirty years ago, we met the Puget Sound, the third largest estuary in the United States. Only the Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay are larger. Standing on the docks of the Seattle waterfront, I stared in disbelief at the water, as I expected to see a pristine waterway of the Pacific Northwest. Instead, the water reminded me more of the 1970 Philadelphia waterfront of the Delaware River, dirty, murky, oil stained and filled with debris. When we returned earlier this decade, the waterfront appeared somewhat cleaner, but far from pristine. We noted the same today.
The Victoria Clipper fled Seattle quickly, in a light rain.
For the first two hours or so the Clipper crossed the Sound, until it reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca, entered Canada and arrived in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, after a total time of three and a half hours. One more geography lesson, Vancouver, the third largest city in Canada is not on Vancouver Island as that would just make too much sense.
With Lois in charge of navigating, we somehow made it to the hotel, just a couple of blocks from the ferry terminal. Embolden by her navigational success she immediately searched and found Fisherman’s Wharf. The area houses the commercial fishing fleet, several tourist restaurants and gift shops, whale excursion kiosks, and a few dozen residences floating and lashed to the docks.
After lunch a stroll through some of the downtown streets, we returned to the hotel for check-in and to meet her sister Wendy and her husband, Stephen. Although the skies threatened all day, little rain fell. Dinner at the Harbour House Restaurant included a lavender gin and tonic and a Caesar Salad made from scratch at your table. The local seafood impressed us as did the banter of the waiters.
After dinner, the sun made an appearance, lighting up the provincial capital,
a pair of landscaped Orcas,
and Victoria’s harbor.
These Canadians must shop pretty fast, eh?