by Shilpa Shah
I’m on the left-hand side of the boat, looking out for a male orca that has just dived. I hear a huge gasp and my head spins automatically to the right. I catch a glimpse of a juvenile orca fully in the air, then smacking down in the water with a big splash. Everyone is laughing giddily and smiling at each other. I feel like there is electricity running through my body. Who knows why she or he jumped or what it felt like to be airborne for that moment… it was just amazing to witness it and feel joy with others.
We’ve been blessed with fantastic orca sightings over the last few days. Twice, we have seen Aurora (female SN105) with her little calf Niniti and others in their core group. They have been travelling in a fairly chilled out way. They move at a leisurely pace and take long sweeping moments at the surface to breathe. The group travels in a line, with Aurora in the middle, Niniti tucked in by her side and the two males travelling protectively at the outside. The usual pattern is to take a couple of short dips, then a longer dive. They come up to breathe at roughly the same moment. Little Niniti does a little enthusiastic ‘popping up’ movement, as s/he keeps up with the adults who surface more smoothly. It reminds me of my nephew skipping to keep up with the rest of the family when out for a walk in the park.
We know quite a bit about Aurora and her core group thanks to Orca Guardians’ research. They are no longer anonymous whales, but they have names and we know a bit and where they travel and how they socialise together. Orca expert Alexandra Morton in her book ‘Listening to Whales’ says ‘a wondrous thing happens when an animal moves from population status to individual standing: it can no longer be mistreated with impunity’.
Protecting orcas from being mistreated is exactly what Orca Guardians is doing through the Orca Adoption programme. ‘Adoptive parents’ of one of ten orcas receive a regular update to see how they are and what they have been spotted doing recently. Orca Guardians asks for a donation towards conservation projects in exchange.
The number of thank you emails received by Orca Guardians suggests ‘parents’ really enjoy learning more about their adoptee over time. As we build a deeper understanding of how orca families live, perhaps we can see that in some ways they are not that different from us.
You can read more about the adoption programme (and share with other orca lovers) here.