Months ago a friend of mine asked me to watch the movie Blackfish with her. I said yes, of course. Trixi and I, despite being separated by an ocean, have watched many movies together via the internet and it has always proven to be a fun time. So when she asked me to watch Blackfish, I agreed without much thought. Trixi, among her many passions, has always been a strong orca enthusiast. Almost everything I know about killer whales has been directly related to some discussion I’ve had with her, or from some movie or article she’s had me read/watch. I went into the movie Blackfish with this in mind – that watching this documentary would be one more added dose of killer whale information from Trixi.
But it was more than that.
Blackfish takes you through the history and current state of the orcas that are in captivity in the marine parks, most specifically at SeaWorld. It’s a heart wrenching film, and Trixi and I spent the time ranting back and forth about the injustice going on while we cried our eyes out.
Fast forward to a week or so ago, Trixi brings me another movie about orcas. This one was called The Whale, and focused on the life of one orca named Luna, who had been separated from his family, and ended up befriending the human community. This documentary was a little different in the way of information. It wasn’t so much about the harsh treatment of orcas, but really showed the personality and behavior of these wonderful creatures. It was shortly after watching this movie together that Trixi told me she was going to adopt a whale.
Yes, I know. It sounds ludicrous. How do you adopt a whale? Why would you adopt a whale?
Like all great causes, continuing research and education on the world of orcas takes money. Enter The Whale Museum. Since 1979, The Whale Museum in Washington (state) has focused on researching and compiling information about the resident whale populations and sharing that information with the public. When killer whales started being captured for marine parks, they founded the Orca Adoption Program. Someone came up with the brilliant idea to give each killer whale a name and to track each ones history. From there, it wasn’t hard to get people involved. With a name and bio, the whales became more than just “things” swimming in the ocean. They had personalities and a family tree you could look at. The program took off, and through it, The Whale Museum has been able to do a lot of good for the Southern Resident whale population.
So here I was, listening to Trixi talking about adopting a whale and how she wanted me to help her pick one out. I agreed because, well, why wouldn’t I? How many times in life do you get the opportunity to pick out a killer whale for your friend to adopt? She gave me the link to The Whale Museum’s website, and off I went to look at dozens of pictures of orcas.
Each one had a name and a number assigned to it (i.e. “J-89 Jimmy”). Some were listed under “J-Pod” “L-Pod” or “K-Pod” – the pods being the different family groups. The pictures ranged from orcas popping their heads just above the surface of the water, to full jump-shots (also known as breaching) where you could see their whole body. All of them were beautiful and you could click on the pictures to read a short bio on each whale. It was very cool, and I quickly found myself wanting to get involved. I read through the adoption information, which told me what the money would be used for and what I, as an adopter, would receive in return.
It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind. I scrolled back through the pictures and after reading through a few bios, I found Notch. The thing that caught my attention immediately was the reason he was named Notch. In some unknown event, young Notch received a large notch in the middle of the trailing edge of his dorsal fin, before he was even nine months old. According to his bio, it’s believed to be the result of a bite. Poor Notch had been bullied by someone. But now here he was, grown and still barring that scar from childhood. It was an imperfection, and I’m a sucker for a guy with imperfections. I ran back to tell Trixi that, “If I was going to adopt one, I’d take Notch.”
(Notch’s adoption certificate)
By this time, she already had her choice narrowed down two or so whales, and as we discussed them both, I told her I was going to adopt Notch. A few minutes later, Trixi and I both became the adoptive parents of two killer whales – J-47 (Notch) and J-42 (Echo). As it turned out, our two whales were not only from the same Pod, but they were friends. We would find out later that they often play together, and both have silly personalities. Much like me and Trixi.
So now I had adopted a whale. I was quick to tell my kids and husband. Draven and Meadow were excited. They had a lot of questions, and wanted to see pictures. My husband’s reaction was much more sedate. His first response when I told him was, “Is that like adopting a star?” To which I told him that it was a lot more involved than that, and went on to explain all the good things that would come from our adopting Notch. As always, he was quick to let me do whatever I want and his next comment was, “So what else have you done today, other than adopting a whale?” You have to love him.
A few days later, we got our adoption packet from The Whale Museum. They sent us an adoption certificate for Notch – which I had put in our family’s name. We also got a few pictures of him, a full bio, his family tree, and the family trees of all three Pods of the Southern Residents. They sent us some general information on The Whale Museum and what our money will be going toward over the next year while we are Notch’s adoptive family. There was also a little booklet on orca behavior and some patches for the kids and bumper stickers.
Getting involved with the Orca Adoption Program has been quite the education, and it’s been fun to share that education with my kids. After Trixi and I watched Blackfish that first time, I sat down with Draven and Meadow and watched it again. It was hard to explain to them why the killer whales were being treated so poorly, and even worse, that it was being done by the people who claimed to be the orcas’ best friends and greatest supporters – SeaWorld. It was a tough conversation to have at the time. I think anytime you have to break the news to children (or even to adults) that the “good guys” aren’t always good, it’s difficult. Now, as Notch’s newly adoptive family, we get to do something proactive to help the whales. We get to be part of the real good guys.
For more information about The Whale Museum and the Orca Adoption Program, visit http://whalemuseum.org/