My Orca Family

Granny and son, Ruffles

Granny and son, Ruffles

My friend, Kristen, @ We Be Reading, posted a couple of tweets recently that were heart wrenching to me. She and I share a common interest:  we both deeply care about the Puget Sound’s resident pods of Orcas.  In her tweets, she announced the deaths of two of those orcas within the last few months. This is very sad and concerning news for all of us, but for me the news was extra sad because I had a very personal connection to these whales.

Early in my teaching career, a science unit from a textbook included a little information about whales. For both me and my students, that unit of study sparked a fascination with whales and with Orcas in particular. We left the textbook and started reading everything we could find about whales.

Somewhere in our reading, we discovered the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, which has wonderful educational and adoption programs that help support the research and care of the Puget Sound’s three resident pods of orcas. Even though we lived far from the ocean, my 5th graders that year became passionate whale advocates and decided that they wanted to raise some money and “adopt” a whale. They collected aluminum cans for months, and finally raised enough money to adopt one of the orcas.

After reading the biography of each orca in all three pods, they chose “Oreo,” a very young whale in J-Pod. (Click here to “meet the whales,” ) We sent in our money and didn’t have to wait very long for our adoption papers to come through. Each student received their own adoption certificate and extensive information about Oreo and the other orcas. It was an exciting time in our classroom!

Whale of A Purpose

Oreo (J-22)

Over the years of my teaching career, I taught my “whale unit” many times and to many different age groups. Three other classes wanted to go through the adoption process. One group of 6th graders adopted DoubleStuf , and a few years later a class of 2nd graders adopted Cookie. Both DoubleStuf and Cookie were male offspring of Oreo, my first adopted whale. I announced to my students that those two adoptions made me a whale grandma!

j34-and-j38-brothers

DoubleStuf (J34) and his brother Cookie (J38)

Needless to say, learning and teaching about the orcas was a favorite part of my teaching career. The excitement and enthusiasm of my students as they went through this learning process was wonderful to experience. I loved their surprise when they first learned that these magnificent beings live in a matriarchal society lead by an amazing matriarch called Granny; that they are incredibly social animals and their culture is highly organized; that they support each other in heartwarming ways,  even “babysitting” for each other, nursing the ill, and raising the offspring of family members that die.

I was an incredibly lucky teacher in that twice over my teaching years, the parents of my students were very happy to provide the funds, organization, and volunteers to enable our class (and the other classes at our grade level) to go on a whale watching tour so we could see our whales in the wild. Those were the most thrilling field trips of my career!

I was so saddened by the recent announcements of the sudden death of Doublestuf and the death of Granny at approximately 105 years of age. I know my former students, wherever they are, would be saddened by these losses, too, because these whales touched our lives and our hearts in a very profound way.

Links you might be interested in visiting:

Some books about Orcas:

granny-orca-network

Granny. photo courtesy of Orca Network

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7 thoughts on “My Orca Family

  1. Les in NE

    I was so saddened to read about these deaths, too! I follow Sooke Coastal Explorations on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sookewhalewatching) and learned about the deaths of these two whales. How wonderful that you and your students were able to go on two whale watching excursions! I’ve never seen an orca in the wild, but I’ve seen many, many whales off the California and Oregon coastlines. Even saw some fairly close a couple of summers ago just near Little Whale Cove, in Depoe Bay, OR. And, I have visited that museum in Friday Harbor! I may just love whales more than any other living creature. Well, next to dogs, of course.

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  2. Robin Post author

    Les, thank you for the link! It was an awesome experience to see the whales in the wild. The very first time I saw them, though, wasn’t on a tour. The summer after my students adopted Oreo, hubby and I took our family to Washington and spent a two days in Friday Harbor. We were so hopeful of seeing the whales from the shore, but the chances weren’t great of that happening. So I will never forget how thrilling it was to drive toward the shore and as we came to the top of the rise and could see out over the Strait…there was a pod of orcas just offshore! It took my breath away! I think that was also the moment that we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest!

    Thanks for the hugs, Debi. I am mourning the loss of these personal connections, but their loss makes me more aware and even more afraid now for the remaining orcas. That area, their habitat, is changing so much and the waters are getting so crowded and polluted. What are we doing to our world?

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  3. Les in NE

    Robin, how lucky were you to see the pod out over the Strait!! I’ve cruised the San Juan Islands on my dad’s boat a couple of times and never seen any Orcas. We spent several days moored in Friday Harbor and saw eagles and seals, but no Orcas.

    The Pacific Northwest is calling to me!

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  4. Robin Post author

    Les, I so understand that call! The same thing happened to us in the mid-1980s. It took us over 5 years to finally make that move from landlocked Salt Lake City, but we never looked back. We lived in the Seattle area until our retirement move here to Oregon. We love it in the Northwest! Also, that first glimpse of the Orcas wasn’t my last. I saw them twice more on the whale watching tours/field trips. Even though there are restrictions on how close we could get to them, we were close enough to hear them breathe, which is an awesome experience!

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  5. Kristen M.

    My sadness about this topic kept me from commenting for a couple of days and right when I was about to, I read about the death of Tilikum in captivity. 😦 I’ve loved the orcas ever since a friend “adopted” Luna for me in the late 90s. She sadly died early too and it broke my heart. Z’s favorite animal since he was old enough to have one has been the orca and so they will always be special to me. It doesn’t hurt that I got to see a pod in the wild once when I was just out sitting on a bench near the Lime Kiln Lighthouse! I would love to go whale watching but sadly get rather seasick. My best hope is for a pod to pass by a ferry I am riding someday.

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  6. Robin Post author

    Kristen, we were on our way to Lime Kiln when we saw those orcas for the first time. I think that was the deciding moment for our family in the decision to move to the Northwest. It took us a couple of years to do so, but we managed it and have loved it. Closer to the orcas!

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