Orca captives: the Penn Cove Round UpBy lgordon | March 10th, 2009 | Category: Blog, Science |
By Sound News reporter Lyndsay Gordon
In 1964 the orca whale, the creature that inspired terror on the open seas transformed into man’s greatest captive fascination after the unintentional live capture of Moby Doll. Samuel Burich, a sculptor hired by the Seattle Aquarium, embarked on a mission to procure a model for his life size sculpture, a model he intended to kill. When the time came, however, he found his intention’s shifting and himself returning with a live orca in tow. The twenty mile journey landed the orca, mistakenly named Moby Doll, a prime spot in the public eye where he slowly began to starve.
Day after day Moby Doll refused to eat until finally on the fifty fifth day of his captivity he gingerly took food directly from humanity’s hand. He swallowed food, but humanity swallowed its fear leaving room for something equally dangerous. The unexpected gentleness of the giant killer received headlines worldwide and spread a worldwide fascination and desire for captive orcas that would lead to the Penn Cove Round Up.
Repeatedly bombs, speedboats, and aircrafts were used to herd local Puget Sound orcas into designated capture locations. The local orcas had seen the nets before and understood what it meant to be ensnared within them. The mothers and calves dove deep, but the others continued on the surface toward Port Susan. Swimming shallower than normal they attempted to divert human attention, but the aircraft flying above spotted the mothers and calves attempting to swim out Deception Pass when they were forced to surface for air.
They had made it past Holmes Harbor, the intended target, so the capture team herded the mothers and calves into Penn Cove instead. The wayward orcas, which traveled along the surface, joined their family in Penn Cove willingly; most likely understanding the threat was not to them directly. Nets go down surrounding the orcas, trapping them against the shoreline.
John Crowe, a member of the whale capture team, was in the water helping to secure the equipment. But the sounds of the adult orcas communicating with their captured calves brought tears to his face. Crowe wasn’t the only person to be torn up about the captures, as protestors congregated along the shores forcing the capture team to work from under darkness’s cover.
In an attempt to avoid a media scandal the capture team sank the corpses of unsuccessful captures by tying them down with chains, attaching anchors, and/ or slitting open their stomachs and loading them with weights. The take granted to them by their permit included the totality of animals removed, which meant both those that lived and died as a result of their actions. They hoped the water would consume their loss in profit and hide their mistakes, but the dead orcas rose to public attention. Some washed up on shore, but one was found by local fishermen that delivered the body to the shoreline home of a Seattle Times reporter.
In 1976 a judge reviewed the evidence, permit violations, and the general attitude and arrogance of the capture team and decided against the capture team. Sea World, by name, was banned from capturing orcas in Washington State. The verdict fell after 45 local Puget Sound orcas were already distributed across the world as far away as Germany and Japan and at least 13 were dead, totaling a minimum of 68 removed animals.
The resident orcas lost between one third and one half of their population during the Penn Cove round up, all younger whales. Only 71 animals remained after the final capture in 1976, but the population slowly began to creep toward recovery approaching 100 by the mid nineties. However, the missing young females, as a result of Penn Cove, would have reproduced roughly every five years for about the last two decades if they were still present. There is little doubt that the current struggle of the local orcas would be diminished significantly had they not lost so many to the
PennCove round up.
By 1987 of the 45 capture orcas only one, a female named Lolita, remained alive. Today she has attracted a large fan base of people trying to return her home, to the Puget Sound. Originally, she would be kept off the shores of the Sound and slowly taught how to be a wild orca, catching her own live salmon. In an ideal situation she would rejoin her long lost wild relatives, but that would ultimately be her decision. She may have received human care too long to be reintroduced, but many people believe either option would be an improvement over her tank in Miami.
Comments contact Lyndsay Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgments: Howard Garrett of Orca Network.