Monday, November 24, 2014

Blackfish Friday

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales have been venturing south into Puget Sound the last several days. I was working with my husband at our project house, an hour away from home the sunny Saturday day they spent hours just off the coast of Blake Island, which I can see from my living room window. Glad to be doing my part (vacuuming) for our home renovation livelihood, happy for those who were witnessing the majestic whales, but sad I wasn't among them.

Today, thanks to the folks who post sightings on the Orca Network, I tracked the progress of a pod (extended family) of fifteen or so whales first sighted near Tacoma this morning that spent hours in local waters wowing area residents who took to parks and lookouts to spot them.

It was already late afternoon, 3:45 p.m. and raining, when I grabbed my brand new binoculars (oops, Dad, I pre-spent my Christmas cash!) and hopped in the car for a ten minute drive to the Southworth ferry terminal to wait as they would emerge from the north end of  the Colvos Passage that runs between the west side of Vashon Island and the southmost end of the Kitsap Peninsula, an infrequent, but not unheard of route.

After watching from the dock until my hat was soaked, I joined a handful of other folks inside the ferry building, all of them like me, with binoculars,cameras, and the Orca Network Facebook page loaded onto smart phones. We stood, nose to windowpanes, all eyes on the slate water as the minutes passed  and daylight waned.

The whales had been taking their time all day, which is a good sign, it meant they were finding salmon--which comprises nearly all of their diet, and which, sadly, due to dams that block their runs and overfishing, is at 10% of historic levels. The whales came into the Sound a few weeks ago, the entire length and back in one day, never stopping their swimming, as they looked unsuccessfully for food.

There were 98 Southern Residents when they were declared endangered. Today there are 78. Ten have died since 2010. There are very few whales having babies. None were born in 2013. The one born this year died after only 17 days. The whales are most likely starving, but today they found fish. Today they meandered.

Photo taken in the morning from Point Defiance by Birds The Word. For more photos visit Facebook.

Today I rejoiced when, against black water, and deep gray sky, their sleek dark fins sliced through the water mid-passage in the last minutes of visibility. Unable to see past the reflections in the window, I had repositioned myself outside in the rain again as word of their progress came. Though they were too far away to hear, I felt my pulse quicken and I gasped in amazement each time a whale surfaced, as though I were being given glimpse after glimpse of the beloved divine.

I have learned a tremendous amount about these whales in the past two years. The book Death at SeaWorld, and the movie Blackfish which is available on Netflix, have been instrumental in my education, and I have littered this post and one last year with facts so that you, too, may know how these creatures hover on the verge of extinction.

There was an excellent and sobering article in a recent issue of The Skagit Review.

Although they may spark our thinking, I don't think facts convert us. It is the heart that turns within us and changes us. It is the spirit of the other that touches our own spirits, that bridges division and weaves recognition until we feel and know that we are one. Though I cannot recognize individuals by sight as many devotees can, these whales have captured my heart.

I did not love them years ago when I watched them perform tricks in a concrete tank, accompanied by rock music, flashing lights, and stilted trainer dialogue at SeaWorld Orlando. I considered them nothing more than trained chimpanzees or dogs, there only to entertain me. Truth be told, I wanted Shamu to do more flips.

But, two years ago, riding the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, and rushing on deck to witness as they swim around us, to hear the potent primal whoosh of their breath, I understood that I had moved to their home, that they belonged only where they chose to live, and I began to repent.

I pray it is not too late for them, or for us to save them. It may be arrogant to think that we can save them; but it is our arrogance that has doomed them.

To say I am awed and humbled by their power, their beauty, their devotion, their perseverance is not enough. There is something about these whales and their consciousness--surrounding a ferry carrying tribal artifacts last year, for example--that resonates within me, that has become my passion, and that calls me to action on their behalf.

So what is a middle-aged writer who knows nothing about marine biology or environmental science, and who, with her husband, has invested everything in their home renovation business to do?  Write a book of poetry and donate 10% of her royalties to the Orca Network. My book, Burnt Offerings, came out in January, and my sales have been small, less than 100 copies. I don't have a budget for promotion, and unfortunately didn't receive reviews from blogs or other sites to drive sales.

That said, Burnt Offerings has received half-a-dozen excellent reviews on Amazon, and I have been able to donate $48 to the Orca Network. I want to give more, but my finances what they are, I need to sell books to do that. So, from now until December 31, I'll donate $1 from each copy of Burnt Offerings sold through my website to the Orca Network (which is two to five times more than my usual royalty donation).

I hope you'll consider buying a book or two as Christmas gifts. All books will be autographed and inscribed, and will include a photo card of my previously unpublished poem, "Lament for Blackfish." Click here to order. Please help me spread the word.

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