December 11th marks the 39th anniversary of the capture of a family of northern resident orcas in Pender Harbour, British Columbia. The captured pod, known later as the A5s, was very nearly destroyed when six, half of the pod’s members, were forcibly removed and sent to various aquaria around the world. Corky, then just five years old, is today, the sole survivor of those captured. Most died within a few years. Corky’s fate was to watch her fellow captives die one after the other. Corky later suffered seven unsuccessful pregnancies. Her story is a sad tale and a sorry commentary on how our relationship with Nature can be bent and distorted for self-gain.
But Corky’s story fortunately has had more than one chapter. Over the years, and while Corky has circled endlessly around the confines of her concrete tank, thousands have acted on her behalf during protests; by painting and mounting cloth squares for her very long banner; reading, writing and witnessing her story in the press, films, on TV, and in books; singing her song; wearing her name on tee shirts and hats, hanging posters and bumper stickers; cheering boats and buses carrying her message; and voicing supportive opinions on the web. It has been an amazing effort in the face of her captors’ continued intransigence.
The broadcast of Corky’s story has helped ensure that there will never be another capture of orcas in the Pacific Northwest, and eventually, hopefully in the rest of the world.
As people have come to know Corky, they also have come to know about her family in the wild and have become advocates for their welfare as well. Corky was captured at a point in time when almost nothing was known about the natural life of orcas in the wild. Orca research has come of age in the intervening years. It is now understood that orcas are bonded together for life in their families, and that they have long, unbreakable traditions, passed from generation to generation. Corky, along with every member of her family, retains these traditions for life.
But like Corky, the plight of her wild family is less than secure. Corky is reaching way beyond the normal longevity for captives, an admirable testament to her strength as an individual and ability to survive. Concern for wild orcas is growing because several populations rely entirely on the yearly migration of salmon, and this migration is being severely threatened by disease, parasites and a failure to thrive due to a confluence of factors that includes; increasing number of fish farms, commercial and sport fishing, logging and other industries, pollution, increased ocean noise, loss of habitat and global warming.
The orcas forged their diet preferences during thousands of years of abundance. Whether they now have the ability to respond to the need to change remains unknown.
We have only ourselves to blame for creating this situation and the orcas’ precarious future. Corky still “wears” the badge of her pod, and any effort to return her to her family must now surely include an effort to reverse the great harm we are doing to her ocean world and her family’s ability to thrive.
Please light a candle for Corky and her family today.