Column: Orcas off Oak Bay

Barbara Julian is an Oak Bay writer, nature enthusiast and Oak Bay News' newest columnist

  • Sep. 9, 2015 8:00 p.m.

Now you see them, now you don’t. They’re there, and then they’re not.

The killer whales (orcas) off Oak Bay splash and dive, shooting upwards like torpedoes, flopping to one side like drunks in a slapstick comedy. Then they water-plough their way north or southwards and it may be weeks or a year before we get another glimpse. But for many people, even when out of sight the orca isn’t out of mind.

Play seems a major theme in their lives. They perform for each other and, when they know we’re watching, for us. We watch and follow them by boat and they watch and follow our boats in return – a pleasing mutual curiosity, but relations weren’t always so friendly.

There were once thousands of orcas (Orcinus orca) off our shores while today the southern resident population numbers only 81. Only decades ago people were still hunting orcas, and into the 1970s, capturing them for aquariums.

Two members of B.C. pods, Corky and Lolita, still languish in tiny concrete tanks after years of solitary confinement. Lolita, born to L pod in 1970 and captive for 45 long years, suffers in a shallow pool under the searing sun of Miami. Many people in B.C. and Washington State want to see her brought home.

Her relatives still swim here, and a sanctuary bay has been selected in the San Juan Islands for her rehabilitation and eventual release back to the wild, a cause which many local people support with letters and demonstrations, but the Miami Seaquarium refuses to give up Lolita, despite several court cases, petitions and protest marches on her behalf.

Even if Lolita is released back to our waters, her problems won’t be over. Orcas are threatened by marine pollution, starvation (dwindling salmon stocks), and crazy-making disorienting underwater sonar from naval and commercial shipping.

Whales, although so close, remain mysterious to us. Always moving, they sleep with one half their brain at a time. They navigate underwater hills and valleys and communicate over hundreds of miles by using sound waves absorbed through special membranes in their skulls which feed information to their huge, complex brains (and which are agonizingly ruptured by underwater sonar).

Air breathers, they both burst from sea into the sunshine in majestic leaps, and dive to black depths where they “see” in the dark by echo-location.

They live in tight matrilineal family groups, each generation of females helping raise the young of their children and grandchildren. Each pod and family with pods uses a complex local language.

Back in 2003, orcas were declared “endangered” (southern residents) and “threatened” (northern residents) under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, which stipulates that a recovery action plan is therefore legally required.

Twelve years later, no action has been developed, although in 2014 the local MP Randall Garrison tabled a motion in Parliament for a Killer Whale Recovery Plan. Orca supporters will now have to wait and see what action plans the next Parliament might be willing to adopt.

Barbara Julian is an Oak Bay writer and nature enthusiast whose monthly Suburban Wild column will explore some of the many fascinating wild creatures living in and around Oak Bay.

 

Just Posted

Our Place Society asks for men’s clothing donations

Victoria non-profit short on men’s clothes, has 80 per cent male clientele

MISSING: 64-year-old Victoria man David Atkins

Atkins was last seen downtown on Dec. 2 and now could be in Sooke

Saanich councillor tries his hand at design with cycling T-shirt

Positive response has avid cyclist considering making more to share

Missing kids a common occurrence during large events, VicPD says

Children often reunited with parents quickly

Langford Fire Department seeks fresh batch of volunteer firefighters for 2020

Open house takes place at Langford Station 1 on Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon

Fashion Fridays: Ethical and sustainable gifts for the season

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Greater Victoria 2019 holiday craft fair roundup

Get a jump on your holiday shopping

Residents in B.C. city could face 133% tax hike in ‘worst case’ lawsuit outcome: report

An average home could see a tax increase of $2,164 in one year

POLL: Will you be donating to charities over the holiday season?

Many here in Victoria joined others around the world to take part… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 3

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Most Read