Count them. 50. Fifty. On the fingers of your hand. It takes a while. Think about it. Think about each one representing a year in Corky’s lost life; 365 days circling around and around and around and around her tank until you get dizzy. Shut off from every sound that made her an orca, a being with an incredible sense of sound and space; shut off from a family line that spans generations stretching into the last Ice Age and beyond. Deprived beyond belief of everything she and her kind rely on for their existence.
Last week I made a journey with Helena to Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver to meet Sonny Reid, the fisherman who captured Corky there on December 11th, 1969. Neither of us had seen each other since that time. We’re about the same age. He remembers me as bigger. A stocky, patient man, Sonny has lived his entire life in Pender Harbour. Catching orcas was serendipitous; he made money but not a lot; his main work was fishing for salmon and herring in the days before both fisheries went bust. He’s retired now and having sold his boat no longer fishes, but he wanders down to the harbour at Madeira Park just about every day, and he remembers the captures like they were yesterday. I’d heard he had changed his mind about the captures. Our meeting was warm and the conversation relaxed. For me, the most poignant moment came when I asked Sonny when he had changed his mind about the captures. He was thoughtful for a moment and then told me that it happened at the dock we were standing on, when the orcas were being loaded onto trucks to be taken away. He heard them cry. In that moment he understood what he’d done, and wished he could put them back. He couldn’t of course.
Now, there’s another chance for Corky. A retirement home/sanctuary is being prepared for her in Double Bay on Hanson Island, not far from OrcaLab and Dong Chong Bay where Springer was returned to her family in 2002. There, Corky will be cared for by people she knows well, SeaWorld staff. She will swim in ocean water again, and though still confined her family will be able to visit. What will happen after their reunion is unknown. There are of course challenges ahead, the principle one being Sea World’s cooperation, but it can happen and I believe it will.
As Corky enters her 51st year away from her family and the ocean she was born into, we’re lighting a candle for her. We invite you to join us.
By Paul Spong
December 11 2019
Here is an audio recording made at Pender Harbour on December 17, 1969, a few days after the capture: