41 candles for Corky
Tonight, we’re lighting 41 candles for Corky. One for each year she has been deprived of her family and community. We think about her every day, admiring and marveling at the sheer tenacity of will that keeps her alive, despite her circumstances. Surrounded by concrete walls that endlessly echo her voice back at her, long absent of kin and close companionship, tolerant of the demands and impositions of her captors; she has endured. Corky’s endurance speaks to a mystery, a virtual miracle of being that defies comprehension. On the other side of the continent, Lolita’s lonely vigil, nearly as long, provokes the same thought: how, why?
Years ago, when Nelson Mandela was released from his tiny prison cell after 27 long years of confinement, and emerged with enough of his spirit intact to lead his people into an era of freedom, we took his success as a sign that Corky could succeed in resuming her life too, if she had the chance. We had no doubts then, partly because Corky’s mum Stripe was still alive, and the basics of orca biology told us the outcome was certain, provided only that Corky and Stripe could hear each other once again. Their joyous reunion was something we could easily imagine, but it was not to be. Stripe’s death in 2000 sadly removed that opportunity, but it did not take away our hope that one day, Corky would feel the ocean around her once more, and be embraced by the familiar voices of her family and community. Eventually, we concluded that the solution could be a kind of ‘retirement home’ where Corky would be cared for, including by Sea World staff. She would be in the ocean, albeit confined, and have opportunities to ‘visit’ with her family and community when they were in the vicinity. As an option, it has much to offer – a chance for Corky, and an ‘escape hatch’ for Sea World, who will surely feel the heat if Corky expires in their hands.
Corky is now 45 years old, give or take a year, so she is approaching the average longevity of female orcas who live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. At this age, because averages reflect early deaths for various reasons, Corky’s wild female kin could look forward to many more years in the company of their family and community. These ‘post reproductive’ years can last for decades. Even our superficial understanding tells us that this time in orcas’ lives is rewarding for both ‘elders’ and their offspring, and that the interactions between them are useful and mutually rewarding.
For Corky, incredible survivor as she is, we remain hopeful that she will feel the ocean around her once more, and again hear the voices of the lives in whose heritage she is joined.
Please join us in our wish for Corky, and light a candle for her tonight.