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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Operation Orca

I recently finished reading Operation Orca by Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett, a book that documents the stories of Springer (A73) and Luna (L98).

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Springer and Luna are two young whales that got separated from their pods in the early 2000s. Springer, from A-Pod of the Northern Resident Community, likely got separated when her mother died, and ended up off Vashon Island near Seattle. Luna, from L-Pod of the Southern Resident Community, was an even more unusual situation because his mother was still alive. However, he ended up alone in Nootka Sound off the west end of Vancouver Island. It was crazy that both these situations happened so close together, because never before had a young resident orca been seen away from its pod. In resident pods, offspring stay in their mother's pod for their entire life. Mom and calf are usually inseparable for the first couple of years, as shown in this photo of another L-Pod mom and calf:

The book follows the plight of both whales, first focusing on Springer who was relocated back to her home range and successfully reunited with her pod. Then, the story turns to Luna, who ended up caught in a web of political drama that stood at a stalemate so long that he eventually met his tragic end. The authors do a nice job of contrasting the two stories, showing how in one case so many different groups with different interests (both US and Canadian government agencies, NGOs, tribal communities, aquariums, etc.) overcame their differences to help a whale in trouble, and in another case got so caught up in their disagreements that they failed to do anything at all.

I highly recommend this book if you're unfamiliar with the stories of Springer and Luna, but even if you followed along as their sagas unfolded you will probably learn something from this book. Not only does it go behind the scenes into a lot of the issues surrounding both whales, but the first few chapters are dedicated to an enlightening history of human relationships with the local whales.

For example, a story I found particularly heart-wrenching was from when the Vancouver Aquarium wanted to make a life-size orca sculpture for its entry hallway, and director Murray Newman wanted to kill one in order to make an accurate model. He set up a team near East Point in 1964 in the Canadian Gulf Islands, an area we often cruise by on our summer whale-watching trips. In July, they finally got a chance to use their harpoon gun and hit a whale in the back. The whale, supported by two pod members at the surface, didn't die, and they realized they could take the whale alive, so transported it to Vancouver. The whale was dubbed Moby Doll, a name that demonstrates how little was understood about killer whales at the time - Moby Doll was actually a male.

It's hard to believe that just 40 years ago, killer whales were known as "public enemy number one" in the ocean, and hardly anything was known about them. Undoubtedly, coming from East Point in July, Moby Doll came from the Southern Resident community. His succcessful capture would forever change the world's view of killer whales. People began to realize how intelligent and social they were, and as such began not to fear them or shoot them on sight. However, people also began to realize their value, and the marine capture era begun.

If you're interested in learning the history of how we as a society went from fearing and hating killer whales to having such concern over the future of these two orphaned calves, then Operation Orca is definitely a book for you.


Michele Wassell said...

I just received the book in the mail yesterday and was going to start reading it tonight.. Now I am more eager to start reading it after reading your post. :) Have a great week.

Vickie said...

Wonderful review. Thanks for sharing such interesting details.

Monika said...

I hope you enjoy the book Michele!

Thanks as always for the kind comments Vickie :)