As our 2015 year ends, we want to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed to making it so successful and memorable. It’s a very long list!
Yukusam Heritage Society for permission to use Hanson Island as our operations base, with special thanks to Harry Alfred and Rachel Dalton of the Namgis First Nation.
David and Brittney Cannamore, with their cat Porter and rabbit Penny for looking after Hanson Island last winter through springtime this year. They headed off to Alaska for the summer and returned to Hanson Island to continue caretaking in November. If you check out their blog (raincoastwanderings.com) you’ll get some idea of the effort they’ve put into keeping the Lab systems going. Incredible!
Mark Worthing and Jesse Howardson for caretaking in May and creating a great new garden box that provided us with delicious summer salad greens.
Steve Lacasse and Sun Fun Divers for re-establishing our mooring after winter storms had taken it away.
Telus Services for expediting the installation of our new fiber optic Internet connection in time for summer.
Charlie Weingarten, whose inspiration created explore.org, along with Tom Pollak, Jonathan Silvio and Ann Haggart who manage Explore’s incredible worldwide network of live cameras.
Explore.org’s great technical crew led by Tim Sears for their heroic work on our remote camera network and connecting the cameras live to the Internet.
JStream for continuing to stream live audio from our hydrophone network.
Shun Kuriyama for his help with the orca-live web site.
Anna Spong for technical support.
BC Parks for permits that allow us to operate remote hydrophones and cameras in key orca habitat.
Larry Roy, with Twyla Roscovich, Paul Ross and friends, who moved our new stove from Alert Bay to Hanson Island, bringing it on shore and into our house. Huge job! Thanks also to Dave Towers who figured out how to get the stove from our boat onto Larry’s.
Mike Durban for installing our new kitchen stove, along with numerous carpentry and maintenance jobs at the Lab and our remote sites.
Mark McCallum for installing a new metal roof on our Lab, with special thanks to Bec McGuire for organizing the cleanup. Mark also returned later to do further repairs, helped by his friend Lexie.
Bill and Wendy Thompson for moving 8 huge new batteries to CP.
Lynn Klassen and Darryl Harris (2 Dive 4) for dives on 2 of our hydrophones
Tides Canada and World Wildlife Fund Canada, for funding our new ICListen digital hydrophone, along with Ocean Sonics for assisting with software. Special thanks to Kathy Heise and Hussein Aldina for making it happen.
Tom Dakin, John Joynt and Peter Marshall for configuring the ICListen hydrophone. Special thanks to Roger McDonnell and Jackie Hildering for installing it at Critical Point.
Herve Glotin and Julien Ricard for setting up remote multi channel monitoring of our hydrophone network.
David Howitt and Barbara Bender for coming up to reinstall one of our network radios.
Marty Henschell and Jim Twin for maintaining our boats.
Jim Borrowman and the Gikumi, with Christie McMillan & Marie Fournier (MERS) for coming to the rescue when our main vessel June Cove broke down.
Stubbs Island Charters, Mackay Whalewatching and Seasmoke Whalewatchng for continuous support.
Marie Fournier and her crew for sightings reports and stalwart vigilance on the “Cliff”.
Jared Towers for his keen eye, camera skills and willingness to share his knowledge.
Bill ter Brugge for consultations regarding our remote hydrophones.
Lori Freiburger, Michael Reppy Christine Caruso and Mark Palmer for keeping Corky’s dream of escape from SeaWorld and returning home alive, and Michael Deakin for bringing Corky’s story to his radio audience.
Our summer assistants: Stephanie Chanvalon, Megan Hockin-Bennett, Megan Howes, Momoko Kobayashi, Chelsea Meney, Tomoko Mitsuya, Shari Campbell, Katherine Jefferson, Julien Ricard, Dylan Smyth, Krisztina Balotay.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Born Free Foundation, Earth Island Institute, Earthtrust, Greenpeace, The Annenberg Foundation and everyone who has contributed financially to our work at OrcaLab. We are especially grateful to all those who send us monthly donations.
The board of Pacific Orca Society and our accountants McIntosh Norton Williams.
Thanks also to our many visitors.
We feel so fortunate to be arriving at the last day of this year.
Now, 2016 beckons
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!!
Corky's family in the summer of 2015
Incredibly, December 11 2015 marks the 46th anniversary of Corky’s capture in 1969. There was a huge storm that tragic night, much like the one that is battering Canada’s west coast today, causing power outages and ferry cancellations. For some unknown reason, perhaps the weather, perhaps seeking disappeared relatives, perhaps for some other purpose, Corky’s family decided to swim through the narrow entrance of Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver B.C. The evening was pitch black but their entry was noticed and word spread. Fishermen who had previously captured orcas in Pender Harbour sprang into action. By morning, the orcas were trapped behind nets and soon on offer to the developing marine entertainment industry. Corky was sold to Marineland of the Pacific near Los Angeles, where she joined 4 other captives, including a male named Orky who had been captured in Pender Harbour the year before. One by one the other captives died, leaving just Corky and Orky alive in the Marineland tank. When Corky was 10 years old they mated and Corky became pregnant. When her first baby died just 16 days old she became pregnant again, and when that baby died she became pregnant again. The cycle was repeated until Corky’s last baby, her 7th, was found as an aborted foetus on the bottom of the tank. Six months later, in December 1989 she and Orky were sold to SeaWorld and moved to San Diego. Corky stopped ovulating soon after, so the dismal cycle of births and deaths ended. A year and a half after arriving at SeaWorld, Orky died, leaving Corky in the company of orcas captured in Icelandic waters. Year after year passed, with Corky endlessly circling her tank. Despite her isolation from everything that had nurtured her, Corky survived. Today, she is the longest living and oldest captive orca, matched only by Lolita, another orca who was captured a year after Corky and still survives in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium. Their endurance is remarkable. Both have family in the ocean they deserve to meet again. For decades we have advocated for Corky’s return to her home waters, to no avail. The simple fact however, is that Corky is still alive, and because of that, she still has a chance to return home.
The problem Corky faces is SeaWorld’s intransigence. We have always felt that Corky could not return home without the active cooperation and participation of SeaWorld, including staff who know her well. SeaWorld, to our mind, could benefit enormously from their involvement, and perhaps begin to repair their corporate image, which has been battered by the 2013 release of the documentary film Blackfish. The outspoken comments made by former trainers in the film revealed a corporation concerned primarily with the bottom line rather than the welfare of the orcas it held. Attendance, share value and profits have since fallen. Moreover, a recent decision by the California Coastal Commission to prohibit breeding of orcas poses an ultimate threat to SeaWorld’s future. Simply put, the writing is on the wall for SeaWorld. To survive, it must change. The new SeaWorld CEO seems to be well aware of this, having recently announced an end to the circus style performances that have trainers flying off the heads of leaping orcas. The stated intention now is to have shows that focus more on conservation. It’s difficult not to be cynical about this strategy, but Corky could be very helpful to SeaWorld as it attempts to move into a new era. She could be transported to a retirement home and a live link created that would teach SeaWorld audiences much about orcas. Corky could still be part of the show, only this time as a bridge to the ocean and her true home and family. That, we have no doubt, would boost SeaWorld’s reputation, and might just save it from sliding down to the bottom of the slippery slope it’s on.
Please join us in burning a candle for Corky today.
In a few short hours from now, we will mark the 45th anniversary of Corky’s capture. Incredible. Incredible to think she has survived for so long, creating a new record for captive orca longevity with each breath; incredible to contemplate the strength of will and character that has enabled Corky to withstand the stress of being surrounded by concrete walls all this time – walls that deprive her of the sounds of her family and the comfort of the ocean she was born into; and incredible to realise that she still has a chance to return to the ocean and hear those sounds once again.
This past year has seen a resurgence of energy directed towards giving Corky a chance to “retire” to an ocean sanctuary, where she would continue to be cared for by humans and also be able to meet and interact with her kin and community. The location is Blackfish Sound in British Columbia, Canada. Corky’s family visits regularly each summer, and even occasionally during the winter. It’s a place where SeaWorld can establish a facility to care for Corky, bringing staff who know her well, and incorporating a live video/audio link to their home base in San Diego. Though still confined in her new home, Corky could meet her kin again. It would require SeaWorld to “come clean” about who Corky is and where she comes from, that she has family, even a brother and sister though she has never met them, and become involved in the future of the marine park industry. That future does not include performing prisoners.
SeaWorld is now a publicly traded company. Following the release of the documentary film Blackfish SeaWorld’s stock has fallen precipitously, and attendance at its “parks” has declined significantly. SeaWorld holds on to the belief that all it needs to do is improve the size of its tanks and all will be well for their bottom line and investors. It’s a vain hope. Understanding of cetaceans now includes the concept that they are sentient beings, deserving of fair treatment not slavery, and the “non-human rights” movement is gathering steam. Projecting not so far into the future, a day will come when it is widely recognised that harm has been perpetuated on innocent victims, and amends must be made. Orcas have the second largest brain on our planet. They live in complex non-violent societies that have evolved over time we cannot imagine. They deserve the right to be free of human interference. As a society, we are beginning to grapple with some of their needs and our responsibilities. In Canada, the federal government created the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to establish a framework for dealing with the needs of species besides ourselves. It’s a profound concept. For orcas, who are officially recognised as endangered or threatened in both Canada and the U.S.A., much needs to be done, and some changes such as protecting their food supply and their acoustic environment will be difficult to accept. But change is coming. The only question is how long it will take, and whether it will be in time to head off disaster. SeaWorld could be a part of the solution. In becoming so, it could save itself.
Many things that happened this past year give us hope. Corky’s great Freedom Banner has been on the move again, thanks to Christine Pasos, a Seattle teacher who devoted her summer to Corky; and in San Diego a citizens’ group has formed that is bringing Corky into the public mind again. It has launched a petition asking San Diego’s City Council to declare December Corky Orca Retirement Month. Please sign it and pass it on:
A wave is building, not just for Corky but for all the captives. In California, a law imposing strict conditions on the marine park industry’s ability to hold captive orcas is a distinct possibility. If it comes to pass, SeaWorld will have to change its ways. A new day will dawn.
Please join us in lighting a candle for Corky today.
And remember to sign and pass on the petition to San Diego’s City Council:
Thank you for caring about Corky!