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Posts tagged ‘killer whales’

Success! No Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre

“KC” breaches in Blackney Pass. Photo: Hildering

As follow-up to last week’s call to action, “Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!” , I am so pleased to relay the following media release from myself, the OrcaLab and the proponent, SRM Projects Ltd

The short of it is, due to the efforts of many (including you) and the integrity and ethics of the proponent – the application for an investigative license for ocean power in whale critical habitat has been withdrawn. 

Please read further below.

 Media Coverage:

For details of how this resolve was achieved see this OrcaLab blog item. 

Humpback whale “KC” (BCY0291, born in 2002) breaching in Blackney Pass.
The investigative license application for ocean power has now been withdrawn for this area.
© 2012 Jackie Hildering; http://www.themarinedetective.ca

Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!

[Updates: November 18, 2012 – the application for an investigative license for ocean power in whale critical habitat has been withdrawn. Please see the media release at this link.
November 14, 2012 – To our surprise, the deadline to provide comment regarding the land tenure has been extended, it is now also December 2nd.
November 13, 2012 – As testimony to how serious this is – international Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has picked this up and put out an action alert.]


For a bundling of media items on this see the end of the blog.] 

There are times when expletives like “Hell No!” are justified and I am sure you will agree this is one of those very unfortunate times and – your action is needed.

Blackney Pass off Johnstone Strait is an epicentre of whale activity and there is an application for an “Investigative License of Occupation – Ocean Power ” for this very area. Yep, that’s right . . . an application for “actual installment of technical investigative and monitoring equipment” that could lead to turbines being in critical whale habitat. The proponent is SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, B.C.

While I of course support initiatives to reduce the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, to have turbines in critical whale habitat would be pure, simple, total, utter insanity. No matter how advanced the turbine technology, no amount of mitigation could compensate for the noise, prey reduction, and other disturbance to the whales.

The deadline for your two quick submissions is December 2nd. Below, I have strived to make commenting very expeditious for you, but first, a bit more on how preposterous the application is, just to fuel you up for those comments. 

Here is the map showing the area for the “license of occupation“.

Source: Application for OCEAN ENERGY/INVESTIGATIVE AND MONITORING by SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, B.C.  Click image to enlarge.

Here is the map showing the application site relative to the critical habitat map for northern resident killer whales from the Final Amended Recovery Strategy for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada. [Why was it amended you might ask? Because the federal government had to be taken to court TWICE to enforce their legal obligation to protect killer whale habitat – first ruling December 7, 2010; appeal ruling February 9th, 2011.]

Proposed site (red) relative to acknowledged northern resident killer whale critical habitat (cross hatched area). Source Amended Recovery Strategy for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada. Click image to enlarge.

The very ocean current that makes this area of interest for staking a claim for ocean energy is what makes this such a rich area for marine life. Multiple currents collide causing a merry-go-round in which plankton and fish are concentrated. The threatened northern resident killer whales feed here with great regularity, as do members of the threatened population of humpback whales, Steller sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, etc.

The importance of this area for killer whales can be supported by almost 4 decades of data collected by Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the OrcaLab. More recently, with regard to the humpbacks, I and my fellow researchers from the Marine Education and Research Society, can testify to how often these giants are in this area.

But it is the whales that speak with the most convincing voices of all. Here is the OrcaLab’s September 16th, 2012 visual and acoustic recording of the I15 and A30 matrilines of northern resident killer whales in the very area “in question”.

For researchers, whale watchers and on-line followers of the OrcaLab’s monitoring of whales, we all know that this kind of activity is not exceptional in this area and we know what is at stake.

As final stark evidence of how often there are whales in this area, note where, of all the places the OrcaLab could have put their whale-monitoring cameras and hydrophones, they are positioned. Then again, note the location of the proposed ocean power project.

Proposed site (red) relative to positions of the OrcaLab, and their hydrophones and cameras. Testimony to just how often there are whales here. Click image to enlarge.


One would hope that government agencies would surely deny this application but  . . . we have so many recent examples of this being tragically misplaced faith and we cannot count on there being any legislation in place for sound environmental assessment that would confirm environmental impacts. May I point out again that the government had to be taken to court TWICE to be order to acknowledge and protect killer whale critical habitat?!

Therefore, we collectively need to make our “Hell No!” heard now.

Essential action needed by December 2nd – submission to two government agencies. 

  1. By December 2nd, regarding the land tenure,  click this link, go to the bottom of this Integrated Land Management Bureau page, and comment on the project. Sample text below in green. [Note that, to our surprise, this deadline changed on November 14th, the date that was the initial deadline for comment to this agency.]
  2. By December 2nd, regarding the license of occupation, click this link and email your comment to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations. You could use the same text as you did for the above.

If you can, come to the Port McNeill “community information session” given by the proponent, SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, on November 20th in Room 4 of the Old School from 6:30 to 7:45 PM. There will also be an information session in Campbell River on November 22nd but this will focus on SRM’s proposals for the Discovery Passage and Seymour Narrows. It will be in the Rivercorp Boardroom, 900 Alder Street from 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

  • Sample text for both of the above. “With regard to Land File Number 1412946, the application for SRM Project Ltd’s “Investigative License of Occupation – Ocean Power” in the Blackney Passage / Johnstone Strait area, I write you to express that this application must not be granted. This is scientifically confirmed critical habitat for northern resident killer whales and it has been legally ruled that this must be protected as per Canada’s Species at Risk Act. In addition, the area is of great importance to humpback whales and many other marine species. No matter how advanced the turbine technology, no amount of mitigation could compensate for the noise, prey reduction, and other disturbance to the whales.”  You may even want to reference this blog and provide the link e.g. “For further details of the reasons for my great objection to this application see the rationale and resources provided at http://wp.me/pPW6V-LE.”

With this application being so ludicrous, I can’t help but wonder if I am missing something. Is this just part of a staking frenzy or is it some sort of distractor so that attention is taken away from something else?

SRM LTD’s projects are listed here. Again, reductions to our voracious fossil fuel consumption are very much needed but, at the cost of having turbines in whale critical habitat? Unequivocally – no. 

So much insanity  . . . so little time.  Sigh.

Huge gratitude and respect to Angela Smith for being the one to take note of the notification of this application and to Leah Robinson for ensuring I had many of the details I needed for this blog.

Media items:

References:

This posting on my FaceBook page has had success in creating further awareness. Feel free to share! Whale on right is Tsitika (A30). She is 65 years old. She loves Chinook salmon and is always within calling range of her sons, daughters and grand-calves. Most often, as is the case here, she is right beside her eldest surviving son, Blackney (A38) who is 42. Tsitka has lived through the human impacts of being shot at when that was our way; our use of toxins that bioaccumulate in the flesh of her kind reducing their immunity and ability to reproduce; our practices that have reduced the availability of salmon and . . . the noise! The next assault – turbines in the very area where her family most often fishes? The same area that is the namesake of her son i.e. “Blackney Pass” and where this photo was taken? The area that is designated as critical habitat for her population?

Fins Verses Feathers – Transient Killer Whales Harass Rhinoceros Auklets

Transient killer whale grabs rhinoceros auklet. See slide show below. Photo: Hildering. All photos taken with telephoto and cropped.

From the evidence I deliver in the slideshow below, you’ll see that August 31st, 2011 was not a good day for some Rhinoceros Auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia, Canada. 

That day, I witnessed a very socially active group of Bigg’s Killer Whales (mammal-hunting population) repeatedly harassing these birds – mouthing them and slapping them. At least 3  juvenile Rhinoceros Auklets had a bad day and, since these are diving birds, they cannot “alight” and escape the teeth and fins below them. Yet, I believe they survived.

I interpret the Bigg’s Killer Whales interaction with the birds to be “text book” play behaviour largely involving the juvenile killer whales. In this case, the text book is Dr. John Ford’s and Graeme Ellis’ Transients: Mammal-Hunting Killer Whales of British Columbia, Washington, and Southeastern Alaska. I provide their  expert interpretation of the behaviour below, entitled “Seabirds: Playthings and Practice, or Between-Seal Snacks?” 

Transient killer whale surfaces right beside rhinoceros auklet. See slideshow below. Photo: Hildering. All photos taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

“It is not unusual to see transients chasing and harassing seabirds. During most of these incidents, the whales do not seem intent on eating the birds. Rather, they let the bird escape or they abandon it after it has been injured or killed. Seabird harassment appears to be a favourite activity of juvenile transients. They young whales will sometimes swim upside down and on their sides, looking for birds paddling at the surface above. Once a victim is sighted, they will try to slap it with their tail flukes, jump on it, or seize it in their mouth. This interaction may continue for several minutes, before the bird is eaten, incapacitated, or left dead in the whale’s wake. We and others have recorded at least 10 seabird species that have become casualties of transients. Frequent victims are common murres, which are flightless for several weeks during the late summer and are like “sitting ducks” for transients.  Other species include black brant, common loon, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, cormorant (species uncertain), western grebe, marbled murrelet, rhinoceros auklet, and red-breasted merganser.  Seabirds seem to be more important as objects of play or harassment than as a dietary item. Juveniles playing with seabirds no doubt learn useful skills in prey capture and handling that may enhance their success in hunting harbour seals and other wily prey.”  Source: Ford, J.K.B., and Ellis, G.M. 1999. Transients: Mammal-Hunting Killer Whales of British Columbia, Washington, and Southeastern Alaska. UBC Press, Vancouver, and U. of Washington Press, Seattle. 96 pp

Transient killer whale tail-slapping a rhinoceros auklet. See slideshow below. Photo: Hildering. All photos taken with telephoto lens and cropped.

I personally had never seen such a prolonged display of this play behaviour before. In fact, I had never seen Bigg’s Killer Whales socialize quite so rambunctiously! [Update 2020, now that seals and sea lions are more readily available, members of this population can be less stealthy). 

 In the Northeast Pacific, “transient” killer whales (or “Bigg’s killer whales” – after the late Dr. Michael Bigg) are believed to have diverged from the “resident”  (inshore fish-eating) and “offshore” (offshore fish-eating) killer whales some 700,000 years ago (Morin et al, 2010), to refine a culture of stealth and unpredictability in order to hunt their marine mammal prey.

But clearly, when their bellies are full and social needs dominate, this type of killer whale is anything but stealthy. On August 31st, this incredibly socially active group of 20+ Bigg’s took about 1.5 hours to travel only +/- 4.5 km (2.5 nautical miles) – slapping birds, rolling over one another, tail slapping, vocalizing and breaching along the way. The whales would go on to bound past the community of Alert Bay, Cormorant Island. I have have previously written about this in the blog item “Might As Well Jump.” 

Jared Towers of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean has confirmed the IDs of the transient killer whales in the August 31, 2011 encounter to be:  T010s, T034s, T035s, T037s, T046Bs, and T146s.

 

See “surplus killing” pp. 167 Barrett-Lennard, Lance. Heise, Kathy A. The Natural History and Ecology of Killer Whales – Whales and Whaling 

Might As Well Jump

When serving as a marine naturalist, one of the questions I am most often asked about whales is “Why do they jump?”

When whales jump it is called “breaching” and the answer to why they do it is not a simple one. Why whales do something depends on context; there is not just one trigger for breaching. This is no different than interpreting human behaviour. For example, if someone is tapping their foot, it could indicate irritation, having an itch, impatience or hearing a good tune!

The breaching of whales can be related to socializing, feeding, mating, communication and/or defence. Of course, when whale calves breach, it  is often related to “play” behaviour which leads to good brain development and coordination. Ultimately,  I believe that the high energy behaviour of breaching must somehow lead to a gain in food and/or increased success in passing on DNA.

Let me share two very specific and recent “cases” of breaching with you; one of which was witnessed by many residents of Alert Bay.

While out in our area with Orcella Expeditions last week, we saw an adult humpback whale breach some 30 times and also witnessed a mature male mammal-eating killer whale (“transient” or “Biggs killer whale”) breach within 30 meters of Alert Bay’s shoreline.

I have never seen anything quite like these two awe-inspiring events.

Humpback whale, ‘KC” on August 30th, 2011. One of the some 30 times he breached in less than 2 hours. Photo: Hildering

The humpback that breached so often was “KC” (BCY0291) who was born in 2002. Initially, I believe the breaching was triggered by the presence of highly vocal fish-eating killer whales (“residents”). Humpbacks do not have teeth with which to defend themselves  but they do have whale barnacle studded fins and a whole helluva lot of heft to throw around so even the mammal-eating type of killer whales very rarely interact with adult humpbacks.

My interpretation is that KC was not habituated to the killer whale dialect he heard that day (I15 and I31 calls) and was making sure he made clear “do NOT mess with me!”. He was posturing to the killer whales. After his killer whale encounter,  he turned around and came upon another humpback whale and again started breaching and making very forceful exhalations called “trumpeting”. Was this communication to the other whale about the presence of the killer whales?  Was it related to a dominance display that may have to do with mating?  I may never know for sure but it is very interesting that KC’s incredible bout of breaching seemed to lead to other humpbacks breaching as well.

Mature male mammal-eating killer whale “Siwash” breaching in front of Alert Bay on August 31, 2011. Photo: Hildering.

And then . .  there was the mind-blowing, highly witnessed breaching of the 27 year-old killer whale “Siwash” (aka T10B ) in front of Alert Bay. Siwash was travelling with a group of 20+ other mammal-eating killer whales. As mammal-eaters, this type of killer whale has to be stealthy and unpredictable and therefore, they are most often far less vocal and surface active than the fish-eating killer whales. This certainly wasn’t the case as they bounded past Alert Bay last Wednesday evening! They were swimming on their backs; fin slapping and travelling right past the shore; calves were “cat and mousing” small diving birds – whacking them around; and there were even male sex organs to be seen at the surface!

What was going on?  Let me state the obvious – they were socializing. Their bellies must have been full enough to allow them to throw stealth to the wind. These particular whales would most often not travel together so the socializing might even be related to mating.

But ultimately . . . in trying to understand the behaviour of these sentient beings, we have to have the humility to accept that we  may only ever have hypotheses for why they do what they do. It is the stuff of awe and wonder that the mighty Max̱’inux̱ were so visible to the very people that have such a strong cultural connection to them, as they swam by Alert Bay  . . . . “Home of the Killer Whale.” 

Mysterious Killer Whales Come Inshore

Mature male offshore killer whale photographed on March 27, 2011 for research purposes by J. Hildering (telephoto lens). Note ragged edge to the dorsal fin – damage from sharks?


Many Port McNeill (N. Vancouver Island, BC) residents were whale watching on the evening of March 30th and they didn’t have to leave their homes to do so!

A group of 12 offshore killer whales was extremely active right in front of the community; even repeatedly spyhopping (popping their heads out of the water). To have whales this visible near your home is a great gift but, all the more remarkable is that these were very mysterious, threatened whales.

“Offshores” are a distinct type of killer whale that does not mate with the killer whales that eat marine mammals (“transients”) nor with those that feed on fish, mostly salmon (“residents”).

About 300 individual northeastern Pacific offshores have been photographed but studying them is usually very difficult. As their name suggests, they are most often near the continental shelf and they are very wide-ranging. Offshores weren’t even identified till 1979 and weren’t confirmed to be a distinct population until 1989.

So little is known about them. Only very recently did the research of Dr. John Ford et al illuminate what the whales might be doing around the continental shelf and why their teeth are worn down so much more than the teeth of other killer whales. DNA analysis of prey samples confirmed that the diet of offshores includes Pacific sleeper sharks (4m+), a species with very abrasive skin that are found around the continental shelf.  In some cases the offshore killer whales’ teeth are so worn down by the the sharks’ skin that it is believed they become dependent on the help of other offshore killer whales to catch and eat this prey. The offshores’ scarred bodies served as a further hint that they may do battle with sharks.

Their diet is believed to also include other shark species (e.g. salmon sharks, blue sharks) and halibut.

Inshore sightings of these whales provide a very unique opportunity to learn more about them e.g. what they are eating when inshore and why they are so full of toxins.  It is puzzling that offshores killer whales appear to becoming inshore more often and this may be due to a shift in diet or range in their prey.

Luckily one of the world’s leading killer whale researchers, Graeme Ellis of the Pacific Biological Station, was able to join the offshores in front of Port McNeill for this research opportunity.  He was alerted to their presence by the superstars at the Orca Lab (Leah Robinson and Marie Fournier) who first heard these whales’ unique vocals in the Robson Bight area on March 25th.

I too was extraordinarily privileged to be able to contribute some ID photographs from sightings on March 27th and . . . I don’t think I’ll ever quite be the same after watching these mystery whales surfing in 3’ waves.

It all just goes to show that you never know who you’ll meet on Northern Vancouver Island!

[Great thanks to residents of Port McNeill and Angela Smith of Ocean Rose Adventures for helping get photos of a lone male offshore killer whale in Port McNeill Bay on March 27].

For more information on offshore killer whales see:


Invasive and Indiscriminate Tagging of Whales?

Update: October 2016 – Confirmed that endangered Southern Resident L95 died due to an infection resulting from limpet tagging. Read news item here.

Update: January 22, 2012 update to the December 10, 2010 blog item below:  Approval granted to limpet tag the endangered southern resident killer whales. See news items at the end of the blog. 

The American “Northwest Fisheries Science Center” (NWFSC) has applied for expansion of their permit to satellite tag endangered and threatened whales with airguns, including the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population and the threatened Northern Residents and Transient populations (the range of all these whales very much includes British Columbian waters).

It is the opinion of many involved in whale research and conservation that the impact of the airgun tagging far out weighs any benefit to the whales. There are other ways to get data on the movement of killer whales e.g. acoustic tracking and collaboration with researchers who have been studying these whales more extensively than NWFSC.

It is my opinion that the tagging cannot provide data that will help reduce the threats of toxin accumulation, prey availability, disturbance or noise so – why do it?  The photos here indicate just how invasive these types of tags are.

Below, I also include a letter from the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA) in which they powerfully express their concerns about the tagging.

If you too are concerned about the merit of this tagging program, please help in creating awareness. Share this blog on Facebook; do what you want with the images (help them go viral) and provide coment via this link before December 23rd, 2010.

Close up of the tag.

News items and further resources regarding limpet tagging of killer whales:

Brutal, Breath-Taking Beauty – Transient Killer Whales

In our work as the Marine Education and Research Society, Jared Towers, Christie McMillan and I went out on December 4th, 2010 on the waters of Northern Vancouver Island in the hopes of finding a Humpback Whale. We didn’t. Instead Nature gifted us with two sightings of Transient (mammal-eating) Killer Whales; a total of 16 animals (now also known as “Bigg’s Killer Whales“).

First we found the T55s and T19s. The lighting on this December day was so beautiful; when these whales blew, rainbows appeared to erupt around them.

A Mother Hunting: Transient Killer Whale mother T140 and her calf chasing Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. Note Telegraph Cove in the background. Image: ©Jackie Hildering

Then, when in transit back to Alert Bay, we found T139, the T140s and T141s.  We had also seen +/-300 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins in the area so knew that there was a possibility that these Killer Whales might choose to have dinner. The display we then witnessed was both brutal and breath-taking.

One of the mature females erupted out of the water higher than I have ever witnessed. She cleared the surface by at least 1.5 body lengths, apparently having rammed the dolphin that was spinning through the air ahead of her. Other spectacular leaps followed, one where mother and calf leapt at the same time – mother high, her calf lower but in almost perfect synchronicity.

Once aware that the Transient Killer Whales were there, the dolphins cascaded away with incredible energy. We could see them still in full flight, several kilometres away, even more than 10 minutes after the initial attack.  But yes, at least one dolphin did not get away. It is the role of Transient Killer Whales to eat other marine mammals; they need to feed their babies too.

I share some of these photos of these encounters at the link below. Realize that the images were taken with a 400 mm lens.

Even after my 12 years on (and under) these waters, I am left stunned at the area’s beauty, biodiversity and the opportunity to learn. 

Click here for more photos from the December 4, 2010 encounter.

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Seeing Whales – Seeing Red

I saw A12 swim by today. A12, also known as Scimitar, is an old female killer whale of the “Northern Resident” population of fish-eating, inshore killer whales. She is about 69-years-old (known as the result of the photo-identification work of Dr. John Ford, Graeme Ellis and the late Dr. Michael Bigg).

A12 is the grand dame of the first family of killer whales I ever saw; an experience that had an impact on me that I will never fully be able to explain. It led me to make a radical career change, moving back to Canada to work as a marine educator on the very waters where I first saw A12.

Seeing her today was as powerful an experience for me as it was the first time I saw her but  . . . there was sadness too and, there was anger.

Last year her son A33 “Nimpkish” went missing. He was around 38-years-old. Mother fish-eating killer whales never leave their sons so we knew there was very little chance of ever seeing him again. Indeed, no one ever has.

With A33 gone, A12 would still sometimes travel with her daughter A34 and A34’s calves and grand-calves but she was also often on her own. Then, as of July 22nd, she was frequently seen with “the three brothers” (the A36s); three mature male killer whales whose mother went missing in 1997. As the only surviving offspring, these males were always together. A12 is closely related to them and it was remarkable to see how the mother with no son, interacted with the sons with no mother.

Today, there were only two of the three brothers near A12. The eldest, A32 (aka “Craycroft”) who was around age 46, is now missing.

Another male killer whale gone.

And this is what laced my experience today with anger. But why?  Whales, like everything else, die.

I assure you I am not being overly sentimental. It will never be conclusive what made these whales die but, but, BUT we humans definitely had an influence. Their health, in fact, is an accurate mirror of how our actions impact the environment.

The whales, with their position high in the marine food chain, are full of chemicals like fire retardants and pesticides (the work of Dr. Peter Ross). Despite the many lessons learned with the likes of chemicals like PCBs and DDT, which were banned in 1977, we still do not appropriately test new chemicals and we use chemicals with reckless abandon. The toxic reality is that the ocean is a soup of chemicals – including the old and new (e.g. PBDEs) “persistent organic pollutants” that do not break down; “travel” to the colder areas of the world; build up in the food chain (bioaccumulate and biomagnify), and reduce animals’ ability to fight disease and reproduce.

A32 was above average age for a male killer whale but “average age” has been determined from the data available only after our use of these chemicals. It is not believed to be natural that male killer whales (and the males of many other marine mammal species) die at a much younger age than the females. Their earlier demise has to, at least in part, be due to their toxin loads being much higher than the loads in the females. The females’ toxin levels are lower because females download these fat-soluble toxins in the fatty mother’s milk, to their calves (of course with negative impacts to the calves).

These chemicals had to have an impact on the missing mature males and, the situation literally becomes all the more toxic, when coupled with lack of food. When the whales do not have enough food and use up their fat reserves, the toxins become more concentrated. And 2008 was an appalling year for Chinook salmon, the salmon species essential to the survival of killer whales of the “resident” populations. The work of Dr. John Ford has shown that there is a direct correlation between the survival of these killer whales and the availability of Chinook salmon and, of course, we humans impact the survival of salmon  . . . by habitat loss, over-harvesting, climate change, current open net-cage salmon farming practices, etc.

So today, as I witnessed A32 no longer being with his brothers, I felt the wave of rage come up inside me. Missing whales causes reflection on the state of the environment due to human over-consumption, lack of precaution and disconnect from Nature.

But the wave passed shortly after the whales did. For there is still every reason for hope. As long as people care enough to change, there is hope. The potential for change is endless and there is ample evidence of humanity, increasingly, moving in a direction that considers the link between our daily actions and whales like A12, A33 and A32.

Indeed, there is ample reason for hope as long as there are people like you who read to the end of a lengthy blog entry like this.

Take one further step and click on this link to find out how easy it is to help the whales, and ourselves.

Thank you.

Killer Females – Menopause and Nature’s Plan for Older Females

The most valuable lessons I have learned about being female, I have learned from Killer Whales. For example, it is through my knowledge of these highly cultured whales that I know Nature’s plan for older females.

Let’s face it, human society does not generally help in this regard. As time etches lines into our interiors and exteriors – society does not tell us we are a-okay!  No, the general messaging is about loss, faded youth and endings. Firm up! Dye that hair! Want some Botox baby? We’re sweeping you aside, ‘cause you’re old!

Thank goodness I believe in Mother Nature.

One of my teachers – A12 aka “Scimitar”; born around 1941 and now passed away. She was a Northern resident (fish-eating) Killer Whale who was the grand dame of the A12 matriline.

 

As I weather the physiological and psychological changes of this time of my life, I know there is purpose in all this. Humans and Killer Whales are among the very few animal species where the females go through menopause; where they can live beyond their child-bearing years as “post-reproductive females”.

In the case of Killer Whale females, they can give birth between the ages of around 12 to 40 but are believed to be able to live to at least age 80. Thereby, female Killer Whales may live almost twice as long as they have babies. On the face of it, this appears to violate one of Mama Nature’s great laws. That is, if you’re going to use our food, you better pass on our genes.

But Nature makes sense. Therefore, the role of post-reproductive females must be so valuable that it “justifies” their using the population’s resources.

Science in fact believes that the old female Killer Whales are the teachers and decision-makers. These grandmas, wizened by their years, are believed to teach mothering skills, how and where to hunt; and they are known to share food, especially with their eldest son. These activities would benefit the population by ensuring that the offspring are better able to survive and mate . . . passing on shared genes. Since first posting this blog a decade ago, there has been further science published on this. Please see sources below. 

The likely role of the old females has been acknowledged in science with the convention being that each family group of Killer Whales is named for the eldest female (e.g. the A12s). Also, the collective name for a group of Killer Whales is “matriline” which loosely translates into “follow your mother”.

Female Killer Whales have taught me that I am not less as I age but rather that there is teaching to be done and leadership to be embraced.

These years are to be lived . . . as a killer female.

Another one of my teachers – A30 aka “Tsitika” with one of her sons, A39 “Pointer”. ©Jackie Hildering.

Studies related to my reflections above: