Did you know that orcas, while commonly called “killer whales,” are actually big killer dolphins?
An exhibit opening Saturday at the State Capital Museum explores the cultural and natural history of the orcas and their relationship with the human beings who share the environment.
“The sound is the homeland for the orca,” said museum manager Susan Rohrer. “It’s an unusual thing to have these whales living here in such a populated area.”
The museum is offering the exhibit, which includes replicas of an orca tail and dorsal fin and a piece of vintage whaling equipment, as part of its celebration of the Paddle to Squaxin 2012 Canoe Journey, which will land July 29 in Olympia.
“The museum this summer is devoted to the story of the orca and Puget Sound and Native American art and culture and the history of the treaties,” Rohrer said. “The exhibit talks a lot about the waters that the canoe has traveled. It’s a great companion to this summer’s canoe journey.”
The museum also will show native art, including pieces that feature orcas and canoe journeys. From July 14 to Aug. 4, the museum will exhibit Chief Leschi’s canoe paddle, a seldom-displayed artifact dating to the 1850s.
Developed by the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and the Center for Whale Research, the orca exhibit stems from the Center for Whale Research’s Orca Survey, which Bainbridge museum’s Rick Chandler observed firsthand when it began in 1976.
“Museum curator Rick Chandler rode the boats out of Eagle Harbor with scientist Ken Balcomb at the very beginning of the photo-identification research that continues today with Balcomb’s Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island,” Connie Mears wrote in the Bainbridge Island Review.
“The exhibit, designed by Chandler, follows the capture of orcas in Northwest waters for SeaWorld and aquariums.”
The last such capture happened in 1976 in Olympia, when a crew employed by SeaWorld herded a pod of the whales into the sound.
“They drove the whales into Olympia Harbor, past the Capitol Dome, where the Legislature was in session, debating among other things the possible creation of a Puget Sound sanctuary for the whales,” Rohrer said. “There were aircraft buzzing overhead and motorboats using exploding sea bombs trying to move the whales.”
At the same time, there was an orca conference in progress at The Evergreen State College. “The theme was that captures must stop,” she said.
And stop they did. A lawsuit was filed and a judge ruled that the whales must be freed.
“These are important stories, stories that maybe aren’t as well known as they were 10 years ago or more,” Rohrer said.
While no whales have been captured since 1976, the dangers they face continue – and continue to be human-made, including pollution and boats.
“The final panels (of the exhibit) talk about the ecology of Puget Sound and what needs to be done so the whales can thrive,” Rohrer said.