It’s been an emotional journey following the lives of Tahlequah, her calf, and her pod in their heartfelt grief ritual. Killer whales are one of the most widely distributed species, although many of the individual pods are severely threatened. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a nonprofit group which maintains the ‘“Red List” a global list of endangered and threatened wildlife. While they haven’t put killer whales on the list many individual pods of orca are facing widespread and localized threats to their survival.
Before I introduce the Scottish orca pod to you I had to share this recording (made by the Whalemuseaum.org) of Tahlequah and her pod communicating. This was recorded on the 29th July, 5 days after Tahlequah’s calf had died. Click on the whale to listen to them.
The top photo isn’t Puget Sound but an orca swimming off the coast of Eigg in Scotland. This is where I run my Ancestral Mothers of Scotland retreat each year. Just a few months ago the same pod was spotted in the River Clyde!
The West Coast Community
Britain occasionally has visits from transient Orcas who travel down to Northern Scotland in pursuit of their prey. Many of these visitors are from the Icelandic population of Orcas. Transient Orcas can be spotted from Shetland, Orkney, and Caithness where they are regularly seen. Scotland however, has its own resident pod of 8 Orcas that are regularly seen around the Hebrides, where it is commonly referred to as the West Coast Community. These animals are sighted year round, throughout the inner and outer Hebrides, particularly around the Small Isles and the Isle of Skye. These resident Orcas never mix with the transients from the North.
Research from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and North Carolina State University carried out a study, published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology which discovered that the main difference between the transient pod and the residential pods is their diet. Residents eat fish, whereas transients hunt and eat marine mammals, including seals and porpoises. In the 40 years that these animals have been studied, scientists have never seen a resident eat a mammal and never seen a transient eat a fish.
Each of the Scottish resident Orcas can be identified by their unique markings, and have been given names: John Coe, Floppy Fin, Nicola, Moon, Comet, Moneypenny, Aquarius, Puffin, and Occasus.
The body of Lulu, one of the West Coast Community orca pod who washed up on the Hebridean Isle of Tiree
‘Possibly one of the most contaminated individuals in the world’
Last year, the body of a female orca was found on the shores of the Isle of Tiree, Scotland. Her name was Lulu and she was one of the West Coast Community pod members. She died after becoming ensnared in fishing nets yet after analysis it was found that her body produced surprising results, as Rebecca Morelle reports for the BBC reported, her body was found to contain one of the highest concentrations of pollutants ever recorded in a marine mammal.
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and the University of Aberdeen conducted an in-depth investigation of Lulu’s corpse and found that analysis of her blubber revealed a PCB concentrate 100 times higher than the accepted toxicity threshold for marine mammals. High PCB levels are linked to poor health, impaired immune function, increased susceptibility to cancers and infertility. The investigation revealed that Lulu was at least 20 years old but apparently never reproduced, despite being much older than the average age for maturity in killer whales. Brownlow called Lulu’s apparent infertility an ominous warning and said it is “increasingly likely that this small group will eventually go extinct.”
Scotland has known orca’s around the Hebridean isles for thousands of years. Some of the earliest people to these islands might well have swan with these great creatures in their hand-built boats as they came to spend the summer gathering and hunting. This Samhain I am launching an Ancestral Mothers of Scotland online Wheel of the Year course which will cover an ancient Scottish wise woman, Cee-al, who has a unique connection with the creatures of the Hebridean seas!
The Fate of Captive Orca’s
There are currently a total of 60 orcas held in captivity (27 wild-captured plus 33 captive-born) in at least 14 marine parks in 8 different countries. I remember campaigning in the early 1990’s when I lived in Brighton, on the south coast of England to free Missie a dolphin who I think had been in captivity for around 20 years (I was the same age). With great campaigns all over the country, the majority of these businesses shut down and closed their doors forever. Missie, the dolphin from Brighton was released back into the wild in the Caribbean (with several other UK dolphins).
A great short film created by the International Marine Animal project discussing Sea world’s lies of happy and healthy captive orcas and the real alternative of returning them to a sea sanctuary.
Organizations to support
The Whale Museum: promoting stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education & research. You can support their work in various ways including adopting a killer whale!