When An Orca Grieves

Photo credit: Steve Halama

Photo credit: Steve Halama

Orca are like us. They have feelings and are affected by the environment that surrounds them. Noisy boats, cargo ships, tankers and lack of food all have an impact on these animals, not just physically but also emotionally.

Orca bond closely and form complex relationships with each other. While we're not privy to their conversations or inner thoughts, for a female orca, all it takes is the death of one offspring and their grief becomes visible and immense.

Last month, Tahlequah carried her dead calf for more than two weeks off the North Washington coast. She made headlines in international media as she grieved her loss, showing how much her newborn baby meant to her. It was part of her and now, it was no longer alive swimming beside her.

Killer whales experience pain, loss, hardship, even joy. They are often depicted in travel magazines launching themselves out of calm, blue seas; their life force evident in those spontaneous moments. Yet, I wonder how can we give them a future when they are constantly threatened?

Orca are part of life and need us to protect their habitat because it’s all they have. If overfishing and marine traffic is left unrestricted, how can we expect their survival? We cannot control what happens to these orca populations until we control human behaviour towards them.

Southern Resident killer whales live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest and are facing rapid loss of their own kind. We need to honour their place in the world, make space for them and value their lives as much as our own.

Tahlequah’s grief was universal and turned our focus outwards to consider the health of another living being. As her family struggles, our attention and protection needs to be directed towards their welfare now - not never.

Angela Gnyp