Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Exciting News on the Orca

It is official. The Orca is now the state of Washington's official Marine Mammal. When children are required to memorize the state tree or flower, the orca will be included and I could not be happier about it.

Furthermore, in the April issue of National Geographic, orcas were profiled.

The magazine even includes a map with a little rectangle inset. I LIVE inside that little rectangle which shows the range of Puget Sound's resident orcas.

The problem is the arrows are incorrect because I have seen our orcas with my own eyes on the mainline side of Whidbey Island. The National Geographic map is wrong!! Their arrows show the range on the other side of Whidbey--that is the usual route of the orcas but now and then they do come on the inside. This is why I am a member of the Orca Sighting Network so that with reports of citizens like me, we can learn more about the habits of these mysterious but brilliant animals.

I have two favorite quotes from the article:

"Adult whales have swum over to show [a diver] sharks or rays, much as they would display food to juveniles in the pod. She says she knows of several lobster divers [in New Zealand] who were poking in crannies on the bottom when they felt a nudge and turned to find a huge, black and white creature looking on as if to say, 'Whatcha got there, little fella?'"

And this about their matriarchal society:

"The adult males in resident pods, once assumed to be harem bulls, are more like big momma's boys that never leave their family.....They're like humans. Different tribes. different dialects--different cultures. if you like."

I learned something I did not know from this article. I had always thought there were two types--practically different species--of orcas, residents and transients. The resident whales eat exculsively fish and the J, K, L, pods of residents are the whales who hang out in Puget Sound. We still do not know where they go in the winter. Transients are more predatory and they eat seals and will take down a gray whale. Sometimes, these folks come into Puget Sound but usually they stay out at sea. When they do pay us a visit in one of our coves or bays, I would not take along little Fido to the beach. These guys will beach themselves to munch down a seal. Fat little Fido would be a tasty morsel. Scientists have now identified a third type of orca they call "offshores". These guys are a little smaller than the other two types and are thought to eat sharks but not other mammals.

I know I have a problem with anthropomorphizing animals but I'm telling you, orcas are beyond human. They think now that their sonar is so sophisticated that they basically do ultrasounds of their pod members to see if they are hungry or pregnant. I mean this is way better than Superman's X-ray vision! They communicate with highly developed sounds which humans have not been able to figure out and yet orcas can understand English. They remain mysterious; we really know so little about them.