A recent newsletter from Washington Governor Jay Inslee brought a welcome announcement: June is “Orca Action Month.” Throughout June, virtual and live events explore the connection between watersheds, rivers, the Salish Sea, and the Pacific Ocean and the survival of orca and wild salmon. Activities and events are planned for all ages. One of my favorites is the Haiku Contest organized by the Salish Sea School.
Other events include restoration work parties, films, happy hour and dinner hour talks, rallies, and webinars.
You’re not alone if you don’t know a lot about orca whales, and in particular, Southern Resident orcas (killer whales). Even though I’ve lived on the Salish Sea for over 25 years, it wasn’t until I served as the first Writer-in-Residence for the Washington State Ferries that I began to study the Southern Residents (killer whales found only along the Pacific Coast).
And did I ever learn a lot (and I’m still learning)! The more I studied, the more compelled I felt to write about the threats to the Southern Residents and much of the life in the Salish Sea. Ultimately, I compiled 36 essays into the collection Writer in a Life Vest: Essays from the Salish Sea.
One of the pieces I wrote uses an abecedarian (alphabetical) form to describe Southern Residents. Entitled “O is for Orca,” the essay uses all 26 letters of the alphabet to highlight orca characteristics such as life span (“A is for age”), their sixth sense (“E is for echolocation), hazards for orcas (“N is for noise”), and how orcas see (“V is for vision”). The new Southern Resident Orca Recovery website took a similar approach on its “Orca 101” page.
Here’s something new I learned on the page:
“Killer whales have existed for more than 50 million years, though they looked quite different originally. Scientists believe killer whales evolved from land-dwelling mammals in a process that took millions of years to become the whales we see today.”
Photos and diagrams on the page accompany descriptions about where killer whales lives, their appearance, and their family life.
If you’re like me, the more you learn about Southern Residents, the more you’ll want to work to protect them and their habitat. I included suggestions in my essay collection (including my own personal “Vows for the Salish Sea”). You’ll also find actions on the Orca website here: Get Involved. There’s bound to be something that speaks to you. I was especially inspired by this video, “Eba + the Orcas.” Eba’s handler, Dr. Deborah Giles, works with the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines Program and is the subject of the profile, “Everybody Loves a Pooping Whale,” in my essay collection.
Ironically, I’m far from the Salish Sea during most of Orca Month. The Naked Hiker and I are in Chicago visiting our granddaughter, Maggie (the Maggie to whom I dedicated Writer in a Life Vest).
But a walk in Maggie’s neighborhood took me past a mural.
These images reminded me that even hundreds of miles from the Salish Sea, we’re all connected.