We're back for another Changemakers interview and this time Lori had the opportunity to chat to The Orca Man (you'll need to ask him for his real name!)
If you're a fan of the humble orca, you'll want to read on. The Orca Man has created a space on TikTok and Instagram to spread awareness and educate people on the incredible creatures as well as share his passion for them.
We discuss his experience with Orcas, the most common misconceptions and even some topical news regarding the Gladis Whales!
I've wanted to be around orcas my whole life, and when I was in university I had the chance to propose a behemoth of a project based on connecting the public to Orcas and research through large scale data visualization. This project turned out not to be quite as viable as I'd hoped but I still wanted to find a way to connect people to the species that has brought me insurmountable joy.
I was going to go to YouTube to achieve this, but my roommate, wisely, pointed me to TikTok where I began posting under the title "The Orca Maven." After posting a few videos, I was designated Orca Man by my new pod and I've been on Social Media primarily ever since.
I'm not sure if it was Blackfish or another medium that put the information that Orcas are Dolphins in the mind of the public. This of course is absolutely true, however the greatest misconception here is that Orcas are not Whales, they are dolphins. The latter statement is comically misunderstood, as all dolphins are whales. Taxonomically, all Dolphins are considered Toothed Whales, so technically Orcas are Dolphins, and as such are considered Whales as well.
There have been, luckily, many Orcas in my life.
Like many kids in the early 2000's and before, I saw Orcas for the first time at SeaWorld. Even as a child I felt a sense of responsibility to the Orcas both because like I mentioned above this species has given me more in my life than I could have asked for, and because my first introduction to them was Free Willy which was completely focused on attempting to help others who couldn't help themselves. Recently, my mom gave me the gift of sharing a story about myself when I was in middle school and the Dawn Brancheau tragedy occurred at SeaWorld Orlando. Her and my dad knew they had to tell me what happened because at the time I wanted to be a Killer Whale trainer, and she told me that when they ended up telling me my response was that I even more so needed to continue on the path to work with Orcas because the incident would scare people who may have wanted to otherwise.
A few years after that I had the opportunity to go out to the San Juan Islands with my dad, where we were lucky enough to have a very whale-full week. Basically this entire trip we had the hydrophone network on (listening to the underwater microphone network for Orcas around the Island), waiting to hear a whisper of Orcas around to try and see them. On this trip I got to see my favorite whale, Alki J-36 who I had been following through organizations like the Orca Network and The Whale Museum for a few years prior. Experiencing the presence of Orcas in the wild, at least for me, is an embodied appreciation. This is an appreciation of sharing a moment with a species who is not always around, of living on such a magical planet, of everyone and everything that brings you to the moment that exists.
For me, interactions with Orcas are like real magic.
The Gladis pod is a bit of an enigma to everybody. The story that the matriarch got caught in a fishing net and is enacting revenge is not much more than hearsay, so the media and the public has had a great deal of fun making a story out of the pod akin to Michael Anderson's Orca (1977). I'm no expert on this population but I can say that it appears that the Orcas are not actively trying to sink boats. The behavior exhibited from each interaction I've seen and heard about deals with the pod going for the rudder of the boat. Of course, if you're out at sea and an Orca is pushing you around, naturally fear is a completely understandable response. That being said, if the Pod's goal was to sink a boat, or harm its passengers, they very well have the full capability of doing so, but that is not the behavior we're seeing.
As far as I'm concerned, this is a pod of 14 whales that has begun patterned behavior that, if unchecked, could pose serious problems for both themselves as well as mariners. I have heard whispers of a mitigation plan but nothing solid completely yet. If it is any consolation to mariners, the only Orcas that have shown this behavior have been around Europe, and even then it is still extremely rare.
I absolutely believe there needs to be more protection of Orcas in the wild. The protection that comes to my mind relates entirely to humans though. More than anything, these animals need protection from us.
That starts, for me, with education. The more people know and understand about this species, the better informed they are to help protect them in different ways. In some countries, there are still Orcas being captured, in others poor safety regulations are in place to alert vessels to Orcas and other cetaceans that could lead to collisions, and everywhere there are pollutants going into our oceans every day.
As far as I understand, people protect what they care about. So for me with The Orca Man, the idea is to provide an avenue for people to care and engage with these animals and their stories in their daily lives. Hopefully this care and interest can then be utilized to further legislation, research and other avenues focused on the betterment of the Orcas and the planet.
Saving Luna or The Whale is a wonderful story about an Orca that got separated from its pod and befriended a community of the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Freeing Keiko is the story of the whale who played Free Willy and his journey back into the wild. While this release is contested as a success the story of how it happened is incredibly interesting.
The Secrets of Whales that just came out on Disney+ recently is also a fantastic source for getting an understanding of different populations around the world.