The Whale Museum News & Events
Updated: August 6, 2006
Scientists Seek Buried Orcas on Whidbey Island
By Paul Boring
Aug 02 2006
A research project being carried out on Whidbey Island by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries scientists could yield vital information about the orca community decimated by captures for marine parks three decades ago.
The scientists are working feverishly to recover skeletal remains of the four or five orcas killed during the infamous 1970 Penn Cove orca capture. If the remains are successfully located, DNA testing should provide insight into the mystery of the Southern Resident orca community’s decline.
Fifty-eight orcas were captured or killed between 1965 and 1976, the period referred to as the “capture era.” Removing a significant portion of the population, estimated at one-third or one-half of the entire community, placed the group on fragile footing, leading to its current tenuous existence.
The bones of the orcas killed locally in 1970 could augment the information scientists already possess. Testing would provide answers about nutrition, genetics, toxins, and more, helping bring several positives out of a decidedly negative piece of Penn Cove’s history.
Several of the whales are believed to be buried north of Oak Harbor. Orca Network is appealing to the public to offer information about the whereabouts of the burials, photos, or other anecdotal material about the captures.
“We are hoping there may be News-Times readers out there who were present during this time, and have information about burial sites that would help scientists locate the whales,” said Susan Berta of Orca Network. “Or if someone knows of any orcas that may have died naturally and washed up on Whidbey shores and were buried over the years, we would truly appreciate any leads we can get.”
The organization can be reached at 1-866-ORCANET or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orca Network will hold its annual commemoration of the 45 Southern Resident orcas captured in Washington and the 13 whales killed during the capture on Tuesday, Aug. 8, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Island County Historical Society Museum in Coupeville. The museum is located at 900 NW Alexander St. and admission is $20.
Tuesday marks the anniversary of the Penn Cove Orca Capture in which Lolita, the sole survivor, was taken. Lolita is now confined to a tank at the Miami Seaquarium, where the facility’s owners have refused to relinquish ownership of the whale.
“The park owners refuse to acknowledge that Lolita still calls out using certain vocalizations that only her L pod family uses, which indicates she still remembers her time as a member of the Southern Resident community,” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
Suzanne Chisholm of Mountainside Films will give a presentation at the commemoration remembering the late orca Luna, or L98, who was killed by a tug boat in March. Chisholm and her husband Michael Parfit spent more than two years with Luna in Nootka Sound, working on a book and documentary about the sociable orca.
Additionally, attendees will view an award-winning documentary on the Penn Cove orca capture produced by Coupeville High School students Connor Tasoff and Megan Smith.
The Southern Resident Community of orcas was given the highest level of protection in November 2005 by NOAA Fisheries when the whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
© Copyright 2006 Whidbey News Times