by Shilpa Shah
I’ve been back home in London, UK, for just over a week. There is a disappointing lack of orcas in this city. I find I’m very much missing being out on the boat and scanning the expansive horizon for dorsal fins.
I’ve been reflecting on my obsession with orcas. It’s not just an affection because they are considered an instantly recognisable, ‘cute’ mascot of the marine world. Or it’s not because they are the most powerful hunters of the ocean. It’s something deeper than that.
As a community development worker, I am fascinated by how orcas live in community together. Those that are sick or weak have been observed to be fed by others. They seem to take seriously the proverb ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’. Aunties, uncles, older siblings all get involved in rearing the calves. I do a lot of work to build women’s leadership and confidence in my work. I am inspired by the matriarchal leadership model for orcas – where the oldest matriarch in the family is recognised to be the wisest and guides the others around her.
As a child I was obsessed with the opening and closing sequences of the first Free Willy film. The orcas looked so free, so confident in their environment. Seeing orcas in the flesh didn’t disappoint. To me, they have a grace and dignity that leaves me feeling jumbled up inside. Orcas (Blackfish) are one of the most revered animals in some Native American traditions, who see them as a symbol of power, family and freedom.
The fact that orcas exist gives me a deeper faith in a world where loneliness and fear seem to be on the increase. I wonder what it would take for humans to live more like them – with abundance, connection, confidence.
Before I left Grundarfjörður, I had the opportunity to name one of the orcas, a female called SN234. I look at a photo of her and it takes ten seconds before a name bubbles up. I name her Joy.
Pollution, overfishing, fish farms which threaten the wild fish populations, noise pollution… orca populations in other places around the world are under threat. As we understand more about these amazing creatures, it is natural to want to ensure their way of life can continue undisturbed by human hazards. I’m so grateful that Orca Guardians is working to protect the habitat and way of life for Joy and other orcas who pass by Snæfellsnes. In the two weeks I was with Orca Guardians, I must have experienced a small fraction of the inspiration and energy that they receive from working with the orcas. They’ve achieved a huge amount in their first year of existence and I’m excited about what their second year and beyond is going to bring!