THE KILLER WHALE (Orcinus orca) is an apex predator and the largest member of the dolphin (Delphinidae) family. The label “killer whale” is really only relevant to their hunting status as a carnivorous toothed whale predator (vs. baleen whale) who use echolocation to hunt a variety of marine life including small fish, cephalopods, seals, porpoises, sharks and even baleen whales (killer-whale.org). While there have been reports of orcas protecting humans from sharks at sea, there hasn’t yet been a report of a wild “killer whale” attacking a human at sea. Orcas live in unique family pods which maintain their own dialect and cultural habits. These varying distinct pods can be found swimming every ocean on the planet. On average a killer whale can live into their 50s; and although some females can live into their 80s, they do not begin reproducing until around age 10 (males becoming sexually mature around age 20) (wikipedia.com). The Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada is a location which has been home to orcas and humans for thousands of years, the Native Americans of the area calling the whales “blackfish”, believing them to be spiritual protectors of humans (native-languages.org).
The Pacific Northwest is home to two separate ecotypes (Transient and Resident orcas) who do not intermingle, the former feeding exclusively on mammals such as seals and porpoises, the latter on fish, mainly salmon. There are also separate Northern and Southern Resident pods. Although the Northern Resident population has doubled since 1974 (to be around 309 individuals) (projects.seattletimes.com), Southern Resident orca pods, who feed mainly on the endangered Chinook salmon, currently number a mere 74 individuals and are listed as Endangered (us.whales.org). As was reported by The New York Times on 7-9-2018, “For the last three years, not one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales spouting geysers of mist off the coast in the Pacific Northwest…Normally four or five calves would be born each year among this fairly unusual urban population of whales — pods named J, K and L.” (nytimes.com). To clarify (i.e. circumvent fake news): this article is talking specifically about Resident orcas. Transients of the area, who may number around 170, (rockisland.com) are not officially Endangered, though they are unavoidably subject to environmental threats (scientificamerican.com). On 7-27-2018, less than three weeks after that NYT report, a Southern Resident orca known as J35 gave birth to a stillborn calf which she “carried” around for an extensive and unprecedented grieving period of 17 days (nbcnews.com). According to that report,
since 2007 not a single Southern Resident calf has survived past three years. In December 2014 a newborn orca named Scarlet was born among the Southern Residents. At age 3 her health observably declined, and although marine mammal and veterinary experts attempted to help her, in September this year she was no longer found among her pod and is now presumed dead (livescience.com). Among a dwindling population of 74 orcas, any individual loss is a serious blow to the well-being of the group. The culprits are stacking up to be human-caused, with the most critical offender being the declining Chinook salmon population (newser.com) decimated by fishing, pollution, dams, and habitat destruction (reuters.com). As of writing, the webpage projects.seattletimes.com offers (what I have come across as) the best compilation of information on the state of the orca in the state of Washington.
Even with my personal interest in Orcinus orca, I was unaware of these specific bits of news when I visited the the state of Washington in late August this year. I got lucky going then: as reported 11-16-2018, local government via the Orca Task Force is proposing a 3-5 year suspension of whale watching in the Puget Sound as part of an effort to help the Endangered orca population (king5.com). Although this ban will quiet the waters for the several pregnant orcas (seattlepi.com), it doesn’t address the issue of the declining and polluted Chinook salmon. Nor does it address concerns which affect all orca populations worldwide, such as PCBs (newsweek.com). Helping the recovery of unique orca populations in the current environmental climate cannot be simple, especially since these giant creatures cannot be easily housed and rehabilitated in human facilities. Just as it will be more difficult for tourists to see orcas in the wild when visiting Seattle, it has become in recent years more difficult to see orcas in captivity. Up until this time in August, I had only seen killer whales in an unnatural setting: namely, at SeaWorld San Diego in the late 90s.
In the 1990s I was–as was nearly everyone–blissfully ignorant of the atrocious (un)nature of the SeaWorld circus, the truth of which was revealed in the 2013 documentary Blackfish and other media such as the 2015 book Of Orcas and Men. When I visited SeaWorld on January 3rd, 1997, the popular movie starring a killer whale was Free Willy, which I had watched countless times. (Side consideration: the title of the movie cleverly hints at the idea of free will). Both Free Willy and Blackfish are emotionally moving feature films featuring real people and a real captive killer whale with a floppy dorsal fin. Unlike most products of Hollywood Babylon and other “entertainment industries” such as SeaWorld (both being made-up (fake) entertainment), Free Willy delivers a true message: “that captivity is bad for orcas and exists only to make money for aquarium owners” (Of Orcas and Men p. 206).
The real life story of Willy involves a male orca named Keiko who was captured in 1979 at age 3 from his native Icelandic waters. After having been housed in various bathtubs in Canada, Mexico, and America for 23 years, and after starring in Free Willy in 1993, Keiko was released back into Icelandic waters in July 2002 at age 27. Instead of transforming into a “wild” orca as anticipated, Keiko reportedly went “searching for human companionship” and “turned up near the village of Halsa in late August or early September of 2002. There, he allowed fans to pet and play with him, even crawl on his back” (nbcnews.com). Although he was free to roam the open seas when he was released, he still eventually gravitated back to the caretaking of humans (onegreenplanet.com). The verdict seems to be that once captured, housed in inhumane conditions, and conditioned to human interaction for so long, orcas cannot be easily reintegrated into a natural life in freedom. Oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau) who was directly involved with the release of Keiko states on his website oceanfutures.org that it should be illegal to capture orcas, and those that are already in captivity should “live their lives in retirement under the best conditions we could provide”. He states that “We are in the presence of alien intelligence and we are asking them to jump. It is a tragedy of a different magnitude” and “we are totally responsible for the care and wellbeing of all captive orcas for the rest of their lives, especially those born into captivity”. Since “SeaWorld is the self-appointed leader in marine mammal captivity” (onegreenplanet.com), the international corporation has a huge (worth its weight in whales) responsibility to bear. SeaWorld’s “solution” of a breeding program which engineers a multiplicity of Shamus (infinite Shamus?) will not hide the fact that killer whales cannot be humanely engineered for entertainment life in human captivity.
Of Orcas and Men by David Neiwert elucidates: “Shamu is the generic name that SeaWorld applies to all of its performing orcas, taken from the original Shamu, a member of the Southern Resident orca community, who was captured as a calf near Tacoma when her mother was harpooned and dragged to Seattle by her captors. She died six years later…In the end, Shamu and her successors, many of them also Southern Residents, made SeaWorld a multi-billion-dollar business…Perhaps the most telling number is that, of those fifty-five orcas taken from the Pacific Northwest, only two remain alive today: Corky II, the matriarch of the SeaWorld orcas in San Diego, taken from Pender Harbor in 1969, and Lolita” (p. 9-11). It can then be deduced that those fifty-five orcas would most likely have been members of the now Endangered Southern Resident population of the Pacific Northwest had they remained alive in the wild.
After having been free to roam the open ocean for a year and a half, Keiko passed into the ocean of the greater beyond in December 2003 from complications with pneumonia. Whether or not his release into the wild after being held captive 23 of 27 years of his life was a success is a matter of perspective. Some view his release as a failure since he never actually adapted to life in the wild, preferring to remain in the company and care of humans. Some might consider his release a success, as he was able to experience the last years of his life in the open seas rather than in captivity. Perhaps the reality is a mix of both. Perhaps the tale of Keiko is how Willy becomes free in the real world. Tilikum–the star subject of Blackfish–has a different tale to his end. Like Keiko he was captured in Icelandic waters around age 3; at age 11 he became the property of SeaWorld of which he remained for 25 years until his death on January 6th 2017. Tilikum’s legacy is probably the most controversial of all captive orcas, as he is considered responsible for the death of 3 people: one park visitor who snuck into the orca’s pool after hours, and two SeaWorld trainers (wikipedia). Only 4 incidents of killer whales killing humans have occurred, and all by whales in captivity. Apparently this is what can happen if you swim in a bathtub with a psychologically damaged 22.5 foot-long 12,500 lbs killer whale with Stockholm Syndrome. Although many observations demonstrate that killer whales aren’t that different from humans (and other brainy primates), are killer whales in captivity actually killers or are humans in need of a few fatal wake-up calls?
Now that the SeaWorld apocalypse (an Ancient Greek word meaning “an uncovering” (wikipedia)) has occurred, it is worthwhile also to reveal some natural truths of Orcinus Orca. The killer whale boasts the second largest brain of any creature on planet Earth–the first prize going to the mysterious deep-sea hunter the Sperm whale. Four times larger than human brains, orca brains exhibit enhanced development in certain areas in addition to nerve transmissions that exceed those of the human brain (whalereasearch.blogspot.com). Their limbic system–the emotional processor of the brain–is different and more advanced than that of humans. Lori Marino, a cetacean neuroscientist who has worked in the field for 20+ years, stated about the cetacean paralimbic system that “That lobe has something to do with processing emotions, but also something to do with thinking. It’s very highly elaborated in most cetaceans and not at all or not nearly as much in humans or other mammals, so it suggests that there’s something that evolved or adapted in that brain over time that did not occur in other mammals, including humans….what you see in the orca brain is an elaboration on the limbic area that the human brain doesn’t have” (theraptorlab.wordpress.com). In addition, cetaceans have three times the number of spindle neurons that humans have “which are responsible for social cognition, recognition of error, motivation to act, self control” (seaworldpledge.org). This is not even to dive into their echolocation superpowers, which essentially allow whales to see their environment with communication and sound. It’s a mode of interactive existence which humans can only approach with non-biological means (i.e. sonar). Speaking of alien intelligence once more: “If an alien came down anytime prior to about 1.5 million years ago to communicate with the ‘brainiest’ animals on Earth, they would have tripped over our own ancestors and headed straight for the oceans to converse with the dolphins” stated Lori Marino (eqwnews.com). It’s worth noting that unlike humans and the apes we are allegedly descended (“evolved”) from, killer whales never engage in any type or warfare or conflict. Instead, social cohesion is of primary importance, and their advanced limbic-neocortical coordination facilitates this. Maybe humans could solve some of their problems by taking some lessons from the cetaceans–a type of marine mammal that, according to current fossil records, has existed on Planet Earth for 50 million years (reference.com). According to current science, humans as we now classify them (us?) have existed a mere 200,000 years (universetoday.com). Based on whale fossils found in Egypt at what is now a UNESCO heritage site dubbed “Whale Valley“, what is now desert was once ocean. These are poignant things to bring to light in the shadow of rapid climate change.
One of the most unusual things about cetaceans is that they do not go fully “unconscious” as we do when sleeping. Since they are mammals that never leave the sea but that cannot breathe underwater, they must rise to the surface every time to breathe. Their breathing cannot be regulated by the autonomous (involuntary) nervous system like it is in other animals; instead they must always remain partially conscious (awake) to keep breathing. Cetaceans have “unhemispheric sleep” (us.whales.org) in which only one half of their brain sleeps (goes unconscious or offline) at a time (howstuffworks.com). I can’t help but wonder if their dreams are particularly lucid. Since they nap in pods, perhaps they engage in a type of group dreaming as well. And because every breath is a conscious one, they are in a sense engaging in 24/7 yogic breathing. Perhaps this biological function is a reflection of higher states of awareness which is mirrored also in their large brains and echolocation superpowers. They are beings which swim in watery depths (symbolic of the unconscious) while remaining fully conscious and connected to the awake world above. Their physical appearance as a black and white entity reflects their dual nature of existing simultaneously in the dark and light worlds of consciousness. Perhaps they are more “woke” than we can imagine. If only more humans could be so “woke”. Although many Endangered species like the Galapagos tortoise can be successfully bred in captivity and re-introduced into the wild (wired.com), orcas and other cetaceans are not species which can be easily rehabilitated by such human efforts. To date, the world’s smallest (and cutest) dolphin–the Vaquita–is unarguably on the precipice of extinction, with less than 20 in the wild remaining and no success with any rehabilitation efforts. The guilt of this death sentence ultimately falls upon humans since the Vaquita have been decimated by reckless and illegal fishing practices (porpoise.org). Just like the recent revelation of the Russian “whale jail“, the terrorism inflicted upon these creatures is not the result of uncertain climate change, but rather is very directly caused by (in)human
intelligence ignorance and iniquity. Some people (with low emotional intelligence) may argue that the loss of a few whales or even an entire cetacean species isn’t as important as the loss of jobs. Personally I vote for the existence of cute dolphins over economic slavery. Plus: what are you going to be working for if the World Ocean and other connected habitats on Earth become dead zones? I hope you are working your appetite up for soylent green.
As reported on 11-30-2018 by various news websites including msn.com, the Trump Administration recently approved “five requests allowing companies to conduct seismic surveys that could harm tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine animals, according to studies”. These “surveys” which involve “airguns emit[ting] continuous blasts, permeating the ocean environment with intense industrial noise” (earthjustice.org) are conducted in order to locate possible oil reserves in the ocean. However, “Seismic testing maps the ocean floor and estimates the whereabouts of oil and gas, but only exploratory drilling can confirm their presence. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that soiled the Gulf of Mexico resulted from an exploratory drill. Another gulf disaster that looms almost as large has spewed oil for more than 14 years. The Taylor Energy spill of up to an estimated 700 barrels a day started when a hurricane ripped up production wells and could continue for the rest of the century, according to the Interior Department” (msn.com). 700 barrels a day!?!? According to markets.businessinsider.com, one barrel on 12-8-18 went for $61.40. That times 700 = $42,980 loss a day. Times 14 years that’s 3,577,000 barrels at a whopping $219,627,800. What an incredible reckless waste of one of the world’s most valuable resources (oil that is; money is not a real resource). And that’s not to mention the priceless ecological damage which is occurring irregardless of the stock market. Taking into consideration such disasters as the ones mentioned above, are these corporate entities actually making money in the long run? Maybe this is too fanciful to assume, but perhaps a “survey” which includes lo$$ from disasters would reveal profit-loss statements at the end of the mess to read in the negative. I suppose its a matter of short-term vs. long-term planning, with these companies falling into the former category (leave it to future generations to clean it up! Assuming there will be future generations to inherit the earth). The remaining whales, fish, birds and the bees aren’t going to do it for you. Plus: Isn’t it ironic that whales
used to be are a source of energy?
I recognize and admit that there are other concerns besides whales which I, as one among many (unum e pluribus?) of the ignorant masses, can only speculate about. For instance: If some scenario were to erupt in which gas prices in the United States skyrocketed to a surreal amount (say $66.6 a gallon at your average Shell station), the only people that would be able to afford to drive to their jobs would be those with a Tesla. Right now, that’s not the majority of people, and I’d be willing to bet that those who do drive a Tesla aren’t the one’s doing the real important work–like growing food or even working behind the counter at the Shell station. So a simple way in which the economy would crash and society would come to a screeching halt in no time at all would be for the price of gas to go through the proverbial roof. It’s easy to think that couldn’t happen here–but with precarious maneuvers like the Iran sanctions (which inevitably have to do with petroleum as well as nuclear energy) among other recent deals and also the reckless allowance of seismic surveying for (impractical) oil reserves, I just can’t help but imagine that there could be the possibility of an oil crisis (race?) on the horizon. However, assuming this video is real propaganda (and even if it isn’t), there are more problems than just the practical issues of energy resources.
As reported in the msn.com article about seismic surveys President Trump declared that “One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers”. Brushing aside the not-so-intelligent syntax of that statement, what kind of “intelligence” is the President referring to? On a scale of 1-10 for emotional intelligence, the Trump Administration gets a 2 (for the Terrible Twos). Even all of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies put together will not make up for a shrunken emotional head in Administrative leadership. And if the slogan of belief (of which Trump apparently is of the “not necessarily” camp) on America’s 1$ bill “In God We Trust” has any merit at all, you can trust that there’s only going to be more rapid and extreme climate change coming as divine punishment for reckless human behavior. Because what goes around comes around: those innocent whales in jail will soon be replaced by certain humans finally going where they deserve to be, based on their actions and their subsequent lack of taking responsibility. If you’re going to make a mess on Planet Earth, either on purpose or by accident, you best stop being a baby and clean it up real fast. The the day of reckoning dawns deeply on the horizon: Repent now and change your ways or be ready for your personalized version of Hell. Earth to the human race: Time to stop being unconscious and wake up!
As for being awake vs. asleep: The fundamental root of my recent interest in killer whales was fueled by a two-year period from 2014-2016 in which I experienced dozens upon dozens of recurring dreams involving orcas. This trend–which at times was a frequent as one dream every two weeks–arose spontaneously early in 2014 as vivid nightmares of being plunged into the same waters with orcas. Most of the dreams involved the killer whales lethally pursuing me. One dream revealed to me the “Holy Trinity of Fear”: an inverted triangle featuring an orca at the base point, a great white shark on the right corner, and a blank space on the left representing “The Unknown”. Some non-nightmarish dreams did occur: one in which I found a $4 vintage stuffed orca in a thrift shop which “looked like it smelled bad” though didn’t necessarily, and another in which I had a surfboard shaped with the head of an orca. These recurring dream-time interactions and appearances did not make sense to me since I had not thought about orcas since my SeaWorld visit in 1997. Although my nightmares about killer whales being wild killers are not founded in waking reality, my uncomfortable childhood gut instinct when visiting SeaWorld–in which I felt something wasn’t right about a giant whale performing tricks in a pool to screaming kids–has been verified. Even though Blackfish was released in 2013 and I had heard about it, I didn’t actually watch it until 2015. Apparently any conscious knowing on my part didn’t matter, since I was having the dreams without having seen Blackfish, without having read any other related media, and while being unaware about the deaths caused by Tilikum over the years or any other killer whale news. However, all of this information was being revealed to the greater collective consciousness: a space which can be accessed by the receptive individual while dreaming. Now that collective consciousness has been awakened to truth, change in the waking realm is unfolding.
After years of enduring countless mortifying encounters with Orcinus orca in the unconscious dream realm, I was able to spyhop above the waters of fear, my last dream to date with orcas taking place in September of 2017 as a friendly encounter. Finally this August I was able to make this good unconscious encounter a conscious reality by witnessing orcas in the wild. My connection to the orca in awakened consciousness continues.
Titled “Polarity”, I made the art piece above in 2015 as an object through which one can balance one’s inner polar energies and integrate one’s conscious and unconscious minds, with the black and white orca being the prime spirit animal for that aim. Painted on a 20″x4″ wood plaque in tempera, enamel, and acrylic paints, it features 13 stones (bottom to top): quartz with tourmaline, faden quartz, granite from the Sierra Nevada mountains, magnetite, pyrite, lithium quartz, howlite, bloodstone, snowflake obsidian, sunstone, lepidolite, celestite, and hematite. On the orca’s jaw is one of my childhood molars.