Orcas, Native Americans, and the Story of Family

Native American mythology has a very rich cultural history of its own. To the Native American tribes of the Northwest Coast, the Orca is an important medicine animal. They are known as a symbol of power and strength, as well as longevity and romance for it is believed that the Orcas mate for life. Not only do they symbolize greatness but they are also regarded as the guardians and rulers of the sea, as well as the best hunters of the sea, because of their mighty size and power. 
        It is believed that Orcas are closely related to humans, and when a human drowns the human is taken down by the Orcas into their deep villages and transformed into an Orca. Some tribes also believe that the Orcas will purposefully take down whole canoes to come closer to their loved one. When an Orca is seen off shore, it is considered a momentous omen and some believe it is a deceased human or chief trying to communicate with their loved ones. Former chiefs lost at sea are also believed to be reincarnated into Orcas.
In the documentary, The Whale, a true story about a young orca named Luna, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation tribe that resides on Vancouver Island talked about how they believe that Luna is their old chief, Ambrose Maquinna who passed away the week Luna appeared. Before Chief Maquinna passed away, he told his friend Jerry Jack, “I’m 74! Getting closer to heaven! When I go home, I’m going to come back as a kakawin [killer whale]”. When Luna appeared, the First Nation tribe truly believed that it was Chief Maquinna coming home and they started to call Luna by Chief Maquinna’s nickname, Sukit. Not only did they believe Luna to be a reincarnation of their old chief but that Luna was there for a specific reason and is on a mission. Because the First Nation tribe regards orcas with the utmost respect, particularly Luna in this documentary, and that they believe Luna is their chief, they would put their life on the line to save and protect Luna and any other orcas.
         From the Tlingit tribe, there is the story of a sea lion hunter and highly skilled carver named Natsilane. When he married the daughter of the chief on Duke Island, he decided to live among her people. Once we proved himself worthy, he was placed in honor as an accomplished hunter and spear carver. Although Natsilane earned his place within the tribe, all of his brothers-in-laws, except the youngest, became jealous of him and began to plot against him. On the day of the big hunt, Natsilane and his brothers paddled out to West Devil Rock. When Natsilane jumped onto shore and threw his spear towards the sea lion, he also noticed that his brothers started paddling away and ended leaving him behind. The next morning, Natsilane woke to a sea lion that looked that a man, beckoning to him to go down below the waves into the Sea Lion’s home. At the house, he met the chief who asked Natsilane if he could help his injured son. Seeing that the chief’s son had his spear in his body, Natsilane removed the spear and healed the son. With much gratefulness, the chief granted Natsilane with even greater skills as well as his safe return to the village. Once he returned to the village, he told his wife everything that happened and asked her to keep his return a secret. To seek out revenge on his older brothers, Natsilane created a whale out of wood which came to life and swam out to sea. He called out to the whale and ordered him to find his brothers, kill them and destroy their boat but speare the youngest. When the whale found them, he destroyed the boat and drowned the oldest brothers. The youngest brother made it safely back to the village and told his story about the whale and his brothers’ death.
Whales experience membership in families not only in the sense of Native American culture but also amongst themselves.  Granny, a member of the J-pod, and family matriarch., broke a record that has never even been set before. Granny is the oldest whale that has ever been recorded. She is still swimming and splashing at the ripe age of 102. Granny still rules her pod and watches after her great grandchildren as if she was a young mother herself. Researchers have been lucky enough to document most of this majestic whales life through photos and journal entries dating back to the 1976. We are fortunate enough to see Granny frolic and swim through the Puget Sound with her resident pod quite frequently.
Tilikum is a whale that is known mainly because of the three deaths that he has caused. However us as humans maybe the reason that this whale has come to do the actions that he has done. Compared to Granny, Tilikum became more aggressive due to the captivity he was held in, while Granny was free in the vast Pacific ocean, she expressed less violent acts.  
The difference between these two lives is vast and can only be bridged through a concerted effort between Sea World and conservationists. Tilikum’s days usually start with behaviors or better known as tricks such as the rocket hop, or a bridge. This behavior is reinforced with punishment training with fish or withheld food. This would end up becoming the reason that Tilikum pulled in and killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. Granny’s however would start off with a check of her loved ones and a search for food in the wide open waters of the San Juan Islands. The contrast between the two are stark even with the first morning activities. The fact that there is a significant difference in the morning routine proves that there needs to be changes.  SeaWorld needs to work with conservationist such as The Voice Of The Orcas or the Orca Project to bring the orcas closer to home. We have all the programs in place to bring whales like tilly home to pods like Granny’s, all we need is is the effort from both sides. 
Dimensions Of Sea World’s Pools
main pool 80 ft. x 165 ft. x 35 ft. deep
each side pool 120 ft. x 75 ft. x 15 ft. deep
medical pool 40 ft. x 25 ft. x 8 ft. deep
The home of the killer whale held in captivity can be easily compared to living in a bathtub. Imagine being a creature who swims up to 100 miles daily being forced to swim in circles for their entire life. Whales were first captured to be put on display in the 1960’s, people were drawn to the intelligence, trainability, and playfulness of Orcas. The habitat that orcas are forced to inhabit rarely resembles their natural environment.  As of August 2013 there are 45 whales held in captivity, 32 of which were born in captivity. When this first began in the 1960’s the death rates and injuries were high for the Killer Whale. By the 1970s marine parks learned how to breed the whale by artificial insemination. Some whales have even been inbred during this process. 
        The whales diet is also different in captivity when compared to the wild. They would naturally consume about three to four percent of their body weight each day. In captivity they are fed a selection of fish and are given 140 to 240 pounds a day along with vaccinations. Perhaps the biggest problem that faces whales in captivity is stress. They are more likely to be aggressive and unpredictable towards other whales and humans which has never been observed in the wild. The aggression is most likely due to their limited environment, chemically altered water, and awkward social groupings. Another major issue is captivated killer whales have an average life expectancy of only 20 years while whales in the wild live between 30 and 50 years and sometimes up to 80 or 90. This is largely due to stress and bacterial infections.

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