Chinook salmon is on the menu
Visiting the Orcas
Friday evening. Further down the island, some of the J Pod are reportedly gathering for dinner. We’re all gathering for dinner, too, over at Candace’s house. But David Kirby can’t get enough of orcas and wants to go see them from the shore.
David is writing a book about orcas in captivity, SeaWorld, and the death of Dawn Brancheau. It promises to be a devastating exposé of what goes on at the marine circuses – as was his previous book, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment.
“They’re over at American Camp,” he tells me. “Want to come?”
American Camp is a grassy, mossy, rocky area of the island that looks out over several bays where groups of orcas gather regularly to feed. In the 1850s, it was the site of a dispute that broke out between the Americans and the British, sparked by the shooting of a “British” pig by an American. The two countries almost ended up in yet another war before British Admiral Lambert Baynes advised the Governor of Vancouver Island that it would be unwise to “involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig.”
(Orcas, whose culture is much older than that of humans, long ago learned better ways of settling their disputes than by fighting each other. That’s in part because modern orcas have been around for about 15 million years, while modern humans only appeared about 100 thousand years ago. So, we’re still at quite an early stage of our development as a species.)
It’s raining when we get to American Camp and walk a half mile or so down to the ocean where the orcas were last spotted by one of the boats.
We immediately spot about a dozen of them, and we’ve got an even better view of them than the boats have since the orcas are very close to the shore and the boats are required to stay at least 200 meters from any orcas they spot.
(Incidentally, the bays you see here are typical of the kind that Howard Garrett says would be perfect for Lolita, the whale at the Miami Seaquarium who was captured from the “L” Pod 40 years ago.)
It’s a different scene altogether from what we saw on the earlier trip when the orcas were all on the move. Now it’s dinner time, and these top predators are focused on getting the 200 pounds of salmon they each need every day. Salmon – specifically Chinook salmon – is the only food that the resident orcas will eat.
The transient pods, by comparison, don’t eat salmon at all; they eat other marine mammals. David was out on a boat when they spotted one of the T pods who had caught a porpoise and were treating their catch like a cat with a mouse – tossing the body up in the air and playing lots more games before taking it to pieces and sharing it among them.
The orcas from the J pod we’re watching surface for a few seconds, then dive, then we see salmon flying in the air to avoid them, then the orcas surface again, then dive, and on it goes.
Then, after one of their dives, they don’t resurface. Nothing. They’ve just completely vanished. Most likely, Grandma J2 has called them all back together. “Time to move on, boys,” she’s told them.
Time for us to move on, too. Dinner is waiting at Candace’s house.
Plus it’s still raining, and we’re absolutely soaked.