A mother and daughter

Simoom (A34) was born in 1975, so she is 35 years old and in the prime of her life as a female orca.  In a way, Simoom’s is a very ordinary orca story – a girl growing up in a tight-knit family, having kids at a normal age, thriving as a member of her extended family and community – but at the same time, she comes across as extraordinary.

Simoom grew up in the company of her mum Scimitar (A12) and two older brothers, Pulteney (A31) and Nimpkish (A33) in the days when the “A1” pod was a meaningful social entity comprised of 3 matrilines, the mums (A1, A2, A12) being very close relatives, though their precise relationship is unclear.  The “A1s” were often all together when they visited Johnstone Strait in the 1970s & 1980s, but eventually, as changes came with deaths and births, the families became more independent.  These days, when they are all together, which happens perhaps just a few times each year, we flag and celebrate the occasion.   Simoom’s life in her own family is rather similar – closeness followed by degrees of separation and independence over time.

In October 1989, when she was 14 years old, Simoom had her first baby, a son, Echo (A55) who was born so nearby to us that we think we saw him on his first day.   A spunky little thing, swimming energetically beside his mum, his head popping out of the water with almost every breath, he is today a fully grown adult male, still swimming near his mum, but now sedately, and part of a much larger group that includes 4 siblings, two of whom are sisters with their own babies.  Simoom’s oldest daughter, Misty (A62) was born in 1993, and had her first baby, Dusky (A83) in 2005, when she was just 12 years old.  In 2009, Misty bore Simoom’s second grandkid (A91) who is thriving but not yet named.  Also in 2009, Simoom’s 3rd grandbaby (A92) arrived, via Simoom’s 2nd daughter Eclipse (A67) who was born in 1996.  Following Eclipse, Simoom had another son, Stormy (A74) who was born in 2000, but sadly died in 2006 when just 6 years old.  In 2004 Simoom had a 5th baby, Hope (A80) whose gender is as yet unknown.  Producing 5 healthy offspring is good going for a female orca, but Simoom was not done.  This year, to pretty much everyone’s surprise, she has shown up with yet another baby beside her!  Actually, we shouldn’t be too surprised, as Simoom is “only” 35 years old and is certainly capable of having more babies between now and her early ‘40s, when presumably she would become “post reproductive”.  Whichever way you look at her, Simoom has to be counted as a huge contributor to the continuity of her family line and community.

What also makes her so admirable, is Simoom’s relationship with her own mother, Scimitar.  Early last year, sometime in the spring, Scimitar lost her remaining son and anchor, Nimpkish, after spending many years in his close company.   They had become increasingly close ever since Scimitar’s oldest son Pulteney died in 1997, and were eventually inseparable.  As Simoom’s family grew and became more independent, Scimitar and Nimpkish were often seen at some distance from them, even in quite separate parts of B.C.’s coastal waters.  Always, though, after being apart for a time, they and Simoom’s family came back together.

Last June, then, when Scimitar was sighted alone in B.C.’s central coast, with no sign of Nimpkish nearby, and no sign of Simoom’s family either, we became worried for her.   To our relief, a couple of weeks later, Simoom brought Scimitar back to the Johnstone Strait area.  Though she left her mum alone, until company arrived, Simoom popped back in occasionally in the weeks that followed, and eventually Scimitar left with her.  When they returned, Simoom & Scimitar were swimming side by side as they entered Johnstone Strait.  At that point, we thought Scimitar would remain with her daughter, as grannies often do in orca families, but it wasn’t to be so.  By summer’s end, Scimitar had taken to the company of the three A36 brothers – Cracroft (A32) Plumper (A37) Kaikash (A46) – who had lost their mum many years ago.  They seemed very comfortable together, the 3 huge males with Scimitar’s much smaller dorsal fin snuggled among them.   We know they were still together on January 23rd of this year, when they were sighted in Whale Channel, between Gil & Princess Royal Islands, by our colleagues at Cetacealab.  Simoom’s family was nearby, spread out and foraging about 5km ahead, certainly well within acoustic range.

The next time we heard about the A36s, in May and also from Cetacealab, the oldest brother, Cracroft was missing.  He was still missing when Plumper and Kaikash, with A12, “arrived” on July 3rd, so in all likelihood, he had died in the meantime.  At 46 years of age, Cracroft’s death was not surprising, as he had lived well beyond the norm for male orcas, but just the same, the realisation came as a shock.  For years, each time we heard the A36s on our hydrophones at the beginning of a new season, we anxiously awaited our first sight of them, and were invariably relieved to see them all together.   This year the feeling was quite different, even though we had been forewarned.  Cracroft, whose life we had followed for 40 years, and who had carried the name “popsicle stick” as a young male growing towards adulthood, was gone.   We’ve long known that eventually the A36 matriline will disappear, as there are no females to carry on Sophia (A36)’s heritage, and the lovely sounds of A36 voices will go too.  So there is real sadness associated with the loss of Cracroft.  Despite it, though, Scimitar’s presence between the remaining brothers can’t help but bring a smile.  She is so comfortable with them, so at home, that despite the loss of Nimpkish, and now Cracroft, all still seems well with their world.

Over the past few weeks, Scimitar and Simoom have spent much of their time together, roaming back and forth in Johnstone Strait, from one end to the other, presumably in search of the best fishing spots on any given day.  Scimitar has remained closest to Plumper and Kaikash, but Simoom and her family have never been far away.   They’ve eaten and rubbed together, and generally been having a fine old time in each other’s company.

Early yesterday morning, they came back from eastern Johnstone Strait together, and after a wonderful concert in which their voices rose in unison in Robson Bight, they headed “out” via Weynton Pass, and continued on together, through Queen Charlotte Strait, and were last seen late in the afternoon pointing further towards the west.

Simoom and Scimitar are so comfortable with each other,  they can enjoy the times they are together, and go their separate ways too… never alone, and not lonely, despite the distances that may separate them.

8 Responses to “A mother and daughter”
  1. Norma says:

    I absolutely love this story. We as humans could learn soooooo much from our black and white friends…

  2. Marie says:

    Thank you Paul and Helena for such a well written real life story…it brought me tears of sadness & joy 🙂

  3. osmia says:

    Mother, daughter, brothers, family, birth, death, community, sharing, support, independence, …

    Thanks for sharing this “extraordinary”, “ordinary” story. Brought tears to my eyes to blur the words as I was reading and reminiscing about some of the events you recall.

  4. Alison Gude says:

    What a sweet, beautiful sonnet dedicated to the beautiful creatures with whom we share this short dance on earth. Thank you. I also rejoiced hearing the “brothers 3” each year.

  5. Allan says:

    Beautiful story, well told…

    Over the years we’ve followed so many of these events, but to see it all written down…

  6. kelly says:

    I love hearing this story. i was crying, it brings me back to those days on the island and being so passionately intimate with what was going on in their lives. They are inspiring and so loving. Thank you!

  7. Marie O says:

    This is indeed a wonderfully descriptive account of the not so secret lives of Orca.Thank you for sharing this family account and how incredibly attached they are to one another and how they enjoy socialization within the family groups.Awesome marine mammals and so intelligent. They bring such joy to those who watch their travels and also in hearing their various dialects on the hydrophones. My world has been touch by these magical creatures..

  8. Liz says:

    we were lucky enough to see Simoom and her new calf on the 3rd August. I feel very privileged. I even managed to photograph them together. Thank you for your work and dedication to these wonderful creatures.

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