|Looking good for a centenarian, isn't she?|
My happiest childhood memories were formed when my dad took us out to the San Juan Islands on our little pink cabin cruiser. We trolled for salmon, back then so abundant that they were easily caught in view of the downtown landscape. Sometimes we were lucky enough to sight orcas. Once -- to my mother's mortal terror -- one of those orcas swam so close to our boat that I was able to reach out and stroke its back.
Of course, the Pacific Northwest has changed a lot in my lifetime. The middle aged "natives" grump about these changes endlessly, and are always taking stands on what and what is not a "permissible" development, as though our disapproval made one iota of difference in stemming the relentless tide of "progress." How pathetic and self-righteous we can be!
For example, as a typical Seattle native, there are some places I never will go. One of them is the EMP (Experience Music Project), Paul Allen's
If you have been following the aftermath of Blackfish, you probably are aware that a number of big-name acts pulled out of performing at the Florida Sea World last summer in protest of its captivity and exhibition of orcas (killer whales) and other marine mammals. And several of these acts got together to put on a show last night.
I was happy to fork over $200+ to take my place in the standing room only crowd. For three hours we rocked out to Country Joe McDonald, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Heart, and others. I was most looking forward to Joan Jett, and she didn't disappoint,* but surprisingly it was Graham Nash who made the biggest impact. It had been a long time since I heard those Crosby Stills and Nash classics, rendered so sublimely fresh and sweet with harmonies provided by Ann and Nancy Wilson and Jami Sieber's cello accompaniment.
Paul Spong, director of the Orca Lab, spoke about his lifetime commitment to studying orcas in the wild, recording their language and music, analyzing their complex culture and family structures. He talked about the rehabilitation of Keiko ("Free Willy"), a project that proved orcas can be successfully returned to the wild. (Although Keiko was not able to rejoin his family of origin because they were not identified during his capture, he was able to swim free for five years after his release before succumbing to pneumonia.)
It's perhaps too late for Tillicum, the whale featured in "Blackfish" who has killed three humans over the course of his imprisonment, and now spends his time in isolation, listlessly floating, staring at the wall of his tank for hours at a time. But it's not too late for Lolita and others. Lolita, who has been circling a concrete tank the size of a hotel pool for 44 years, is considered healthy enough to be released. Her mother is still alive, and there is every reason to believe her pod will recognize her and welcome her back when she is repatriated to her home waters.
Sea World lies and lies and lies. It lies, for example, when it claims orcas in captivity outlive free orcas. Granny, the matriarch of J2, is 100 and is still the leader of her pack.
It was easy to summon the spirit of the 1840s abolitionists last night. The capture, enslavement and exploitation of animals that rival us in intelligence and social complexity is clearly indefensible to anyone whose heart is not made of stone. It must stop, and it will stop... The only question is, How long will we allow these creatures to suffer in order to fatten the shareholders of Sea World?
What can we do? For starters, refuse to go to Sea World or take kids to any aquariums that feature performing marine mammals. Challenge the message these corporations are sending children about our rightful relationship with nature. Resist the temptation to "swim with the dolphins" on vacation (so much fun for us, not so much for the dolphins who have no choice to interact with us in those environments).
Come to Washington State during whale watching seasons. There are several local charters that will take visitors out to observe killer whales from a respectful distance. If you're a regular reader, shoot me an e-mail and I may even accompany you to the top of the Space Needle (I have to go some time, I guess).
* OK, I was a teeny bit disappointed she didn't play "Androgynous," so I'll just play it right now: