Animal of The Month
Organization: Orca Conservancy
Welcome to our Animal of the Month newsletter! Each month we promote a different animal, organization to donate 5% to, and a stamp design in tribute. If you’d like to donate 5% to the chosen organization, make sure you purchase the tribute stamp design (available for all in-stock molds), and if you’d like to donate more than 5%, their website will always be linked to donate an amount of your choosing!!
Wild Discs is always on a mission to bring awareness to animal species in need. We donate 5% of all general sales to the WWF, in hopes to aid not only endangered animals, but the general health of the planet.
That being said, if you have a certain animal in mind that we’ve not covered yet, feel free to reach out and send in a suggestion. Your animal and organization of choice might just end up being the next Animal of The Month, or better yet, our next mold name!
Our teammate Daisey James nominated Orca Conservancy as the organization of choice for October. In her own words, here is why:
“I have always adored orcas, even as a kid growing up in landlocked Nevada, I’ve loved them.
When I moved to the Pacific Northwest and got to see Orcas in the Puget Sound, I loved them even more. Orcas have been captured and held in captivity, most notably recently, Tokitae (aka Lolita), is a member of the Southern Resident Orcas that was captured in a cove in the Puget Sound 50 years ago and was held in captivity their entire life. Organizations fought for the release of Tokitae and her return to her home, and while SeaWorld finally agreed, it was too late. Tokitae died in captivity. Her cremated remains are being returned to the Lummi Nation, who will be honoring her memory and scattering her ashes in her native Salish Sea.
The Orca Conservancy works to protect the endangered Southern Resident killer whales of the Puget Sound.
The Southern Resident killer whales are a genetically distinct population of orcas in the Pacific Northwest. This unique population is on the verge of extinction with only 75 remaining individuals. The Southern Residents face multiple threats, with the top three being lack of food, pollution, and vessel noise.”
Follow Daisey on Instagram @daisey_james
Orca’s (otherwise known as Killer Whales) are the largest member of the dolphin family. It has a black and white patterned body, useful for camouflage in deep water. However, they’re quite hard to miss when above water since their dorsal fins can reach a height of 6 ft, which means their fin is taller than the average human! The length of a killer whale ranges from 5.5-9.8 meters, males being a bit larger than females, with weight ranging from 6,600-16,000lbs.
Killer Whales are an apex predator, and are known to eat 3-4% of their body weight on a daily basis. They hunt in packs, using strategy to trap and kill their prey. They’re known to hunt a wide variety of species: seals, turtles, penguins, squid and even sea birds. They’re able to communicate with each other using clicks and whistles; a part of their sonar and used for echolocation. Each pod has their own unique language, and scientists can even pinpoint which region they’re from based on their dialect or calls.
If you’d like to listen to some of these chatters/calls you can click the link here: https://us.whales.org/whales-dolphins/species-guide/orca-killer-whale/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw9rSoBhCiARIsAFOiplmUidIyZqAd7YJTBXgMIiunXE58VK11VJ0OgdLdSMPN8J1ATW93-5YaAnJIEALw_wcB
Orcas are said to be “non-human persons” due to their capabilities of language, social and emotional intelligence. Their brain has a level of cortical folding similar to humans and other mammals such as chimpanzees, having a high amount of cortical processing. We, as humans, only have one cingulate gyrus, whereas the Orca has not one, but three separate lobes. This is the area of the brain that associates with emotional life and memories. Spindle cells, cells associated with the processing of social organization and empathy, were thought to be unique to the great apes but have recently been found in whale species, including orcas. The relative number of spindle cells is greater than that of a human brain, creating the belief that Orca’s have more of an emotional intelligence than us; humans.
If you’d like to read more on the differences or similarities in human vs orca brain cells, you can find more information here: https://greymattersjournal.org/killer-whales-are-non-human-persons/
Now that we’ve got the fun facts out of the way, and also established that Killer Whales are far more intelligent than we understand, you might be asking yourself, “Why do they need our help?” or maybe you’re already an advocate considering their troubles have been gaining more attention in the media for the past couple of years.
They have their fair share of unfortunate obstacles:
- Chemical pollution
- Noise pollution
- Fishing entanglement
- Lack of prey
- Climate change
And last but certainly not least,
We’ve painted the picture of how intelligent and social Killer Whale’s truly are, and hopefully will put some perspective on how scary, and traumatizing being hunted and captured must be for them. To be taken away from their friends, family, children and natural habitat entirely. Could there be anything worse?
This has been occurring since the early 1960’s, and considering the outcome of the first Orca ever captured, you’d think they’d stop there.
In 1961, Marineland of the Pacific, corralled a female Orca that was feeding alone in a nearby harbor, hoisted her onto a flatbed and was soon introduced to a tank. She immediately began smashing her head into the tank wall. It was said that, “She would start swimming at high speed around the tank, striking her body repeatedly. Finally, she convulsed and died.” Foreshadowing, I’m sure, the horrors to come in the next 60 years for a large majority of other orcas in captivity.
If you’d like to read more about the other atrocities that followed this tragedy, you can click the link here: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/whales/etc/cron.html#:~:text=Moby%20Doll%2C%20the%20first%20live,the%20coast%20of%20British%20Columbia.
In theory, if their brains have a larger social and emotional intelligence than even humans, then being able to make a decision to end their own life due to depression, trauma, and pure loneliness is more than believable… and it unfortunately happens more times than aquariums and trainers would like to admit. It’s not just killer whale’s that have taken their own life after being captured and isolated from relatives, it’s also happened with bottlenose dolphins. You can learn more about this by watching “The Cove”, a gut-wrenching documentary about the dolphin slaughter in Taiji or you can read the article here: https://www.the-sun.com/news/3701375/dolphin-kathy-flipper-killed-herself/
that explains Kathy’s (the dolphin) death.
Another infamous captive orca death, caused by suicide from slamming his head against a tank wall, is Hugo from the Miami Seaquarium. Hugo was a roommate of Lolita, the second oldest Orca to ever be in captivity, and also the inspiration of this Animal of the Month. Hugo met his demise in 1980, almost twenty years following the first ever captive orca, who met the same fate.
The point being: these animals clearly feel depression just as we do. The trauma, isolation, confusion and emptiness they must feel when being taken from their home and placed in nothing but a shallow, tiny tank away from all they know is sometimes too much to bear. But what if they continue the rest of their lives in captivity? What are their hardships? What would their lives look like on a day-to-day basis if they don’t leave; either by rescue, or exiting this world on their own accord?
Let’s use the famous Tilikum for example. Tilikum was captured in the North Atlantic in 1983. The hunters cornered his family, and removed him from his mother and his pod, as they all watched even though they had the opportunity to swim away and escape, and chattered/screamed to each other. At 2 years old, he was 11.5 feet long (he was much larger than the average male). At four years of age, he was transferred from Iceland to Sealand in British Columbia. At just four years old, he was forced to do tricks for food, and if failed to perform these tricks, he was deprived of fish and starved as punishment. These training sessions would take place with a seasoned and experienced orca, who would also be punished if Tilikum failed to perform the tricks correctly. The elder orca would become frustrated with Tilikum, and lash out, raking him with their teeth. This caused multiple injuries, resulting in bleeding and scarring.
At night, Tilikum was locked inside a “module”, basically a half underwater storage container, 20 feet across and 30 feet deep. This was a steel, pitch black pool. This was leaving Tilukum without any stimulation, socialization, or light for 2/3rds of the day. The young orca would be locked in this metal box with the elder whales, giving them more opportunities to injure and attack the young orca, ultimately leaving him with many rakes by morning.
This is believed, by some researchers, to have led him into psychosis.
Not long after, there was an attack on one of Sealand’s young trainers which resulted in her tragic death. There were witnesses who expressed that Tilikum was the instigator of this attack, and the elder orcas just circled the incident, not necessarily partaking. This tragedy resulted in the closing of Sealand, and the transfer of Tilikum from Sealand to SeaWorld where he would be used for constant breeding.
It’s said by many animal behaviorists that if an animal attacks a person, they’re most likely to repeat the behavior. Not only that, but aggression can be genetic and it’s not recommended to breed an animal that exhibits aggressive behavior, especially if you’re planning on using those animals in close proximity to other humans (i.e. trick training, and swimming together).
Arriving at SeaWorld in 1992, he was repeatedly attacked, once again, by the elder orcas, resulting in bleeding and scarring. Due to this, he spent most of the time in isolation.
In 1999, a man was found dead and draped over Tilikum’s back. It’s said the man most likely hid in the park until after close, and jumped in Tilikum’s tank for a swim. However, SeaWorld claimed that he simply drowned, despite having multiple bite wounds covering his body and being stripped of his clothes.
Despite alluding to possibly causing the death of two humans, he remained not only in captivity, but still used for entertainment purposes such as tricks in SeaWorld’s public and private shows. A little over ten years later, another attack occurred, resulting in a third and final kill. After attacking three humans, and killing them, it only took 13 months for him to return to the stage.
Due to a lung infection, Tilikum passed away in January of 2017.
By not hunting and capturing Tilikum, and other orcas, we could’ve saved countless human lives and spared Tilikum of any trauma created by keeping him in a shared space with orcas that aren’t from the same region, and don’t even speak the same language.
This article is in tribute to Tokitae, whom many had plans to return her home to the Pacific Northwest, after spending 53 years in captivity. This was a project funded by the Colts owner, Jim Irsay. This project is called, “The Whale Sanctuary Project”, where a sanctuary is being built off the coast of Washington State. It’s planned to be 7,000 square miles, where Tokitae was supposed to rehabilitate and be reintroduced to her 83 year old mother, along with all 35 members of her pod that are still living in the very waters that she was taken from. Unfortunately, Tokitae (Lolita) did not outlive her mother, and died of suspected renal failure on August 18th, 2023.
The advocacy for many other captive whales to return to the ocean doesn’t stop there. If you’d like more information on the sanctuary, you can clink the link: https://www.salishsea.org/
Our organization of choice for this month is the Orca Conservancy, and their main focus is the southern resident killer whales. They have multiple threats to the population, including: lack of prey, pollution and vessel noise.
The lack of prey is caused by dams, pollution, climate change, urbanization and habitat loss. In turn, this causes the killer whales to look elsewhere for a meal, settling for fish who are less nutritional and fatty, affecting the health of an orca in a negative way. This can cause nutritional stress, and especially affects pregnant female orcas, resulting in pregnancies that don’t come to term. Therefore causing a decline in population.
Pollution is another main cause of population decline, as toxins from humans are entering the ocean. Where do these toxins come from? Well, they can come from anything like electronics, clothing, paints, pesticides and more. They enter the oceans in a variety of ways like groundwater and stormwater runoff from urban and agricultural areas, or when pollutants enter the atmosphere and then are deposited back into the land through rain and snow.
Want to help? Visit https://www.orcaconservancy.org for more information on what you can do! They even have some awesome merchandise.a Whale Sanctuary Salish Sea Whale Sanctuary