Orca Salish Sea
(Animal Habitats series)

18″ x 24″ ink, pencil & paint on paper. 2016.

My Anima series explores the shape and form of nature in the Pacific Northwest. Here the southern resident orcas of the southern Salish Sea are re-imagined as the coastal waters and islands among which they live: Shachi (J19), Scarlet (J50), Slick (J43), Blackberry (J27), and matriarch Granny (J2).

A favorite orca memory: Working as the County Park Campground host one late summer, it was my job to make the rounds at 10PM to remind everyone to put out their fires and be quiet for the rest of the night. Both things not every camper wanted to do. One moonless night I was beginning my rounds when I got a text message from a friend at Lime Kiln, south of my location, “Vocalizations on the hydrophone now, all three pods heading your way!”

The orcas certainly made my job so much easier that night! As I made my rounds I told each campsite in turn, “A reliable source told me the entire group of Southern Resident orca are on their way towards us now. If you’re quiet, you may be able to hear them as they pass by.” No one challenged me on the quiet-time enforcement rules as usual. The first orca blows sounded from the water, gradually drawing all the campers to the field between their tents and the water below. “That first blow we’re hearing is probably Granny, she’s the matriarch and usually in the lead.” This was also the first summer I’d been working as a naturalist aboard a wildlife tour boat.

Occasionally I’d offer commentary or answer a question, but for the most part we all stood silently together there on the field, listening to every orca-related sound. Breaches, tail slaps, and even vocalizations came from the water and reverberated off the cliff behind the campground, amplifying all sound. The whales socialized and played for several hours in the water before us, unseen. The majority of the people there that night had never seen orcas in the wild before. And technically, they still hadn’t, but together we all witnessed an increasingly rare scene in the Salish Sea: all members of the Southern Resident orcas accounted for and together.

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