For captive orcas, nightmare is real

I have an unexplained fear of orcas. My best guess is my phobia developed in childhood when I saw a clip from the 1977 movie “Orca” on TV.

Now as an adult, I wake up a couple of times a month with scary-orca nightmares. I haven’t stepped foot in Cabela’s because of the giant whale hanging from the ceiling. Yikes!

But earlier this month I decided to face my fear of orcas because of two teenagers, Keely Clark and Angelica Enkhee. Together with Keely’s mom, Dawn, they brought the movies “Blackfish” and “Lolita: Slave to Entertainment” to Edmonds.

Teenagers fighting for justice and cooperating with Mom? That got my attention. So did the documentary “Blackfish,” which is the film I saw. I learned more about orcas from “Blackfish” than I did in 100 childhood visits to SeaWorld.

For me, the biggest take-home fact was that orcas do not kill people in the wild. (Maybe that will stop my nightmares.)

I was also impressed to learn about the intense social bonds orcas form with their families. Babies stay with their moms forever. Aunts, grandmas and cousins take care of their kin.

Sadly, captivity rends families apart. SeaWorld sends babies away from their moms after just a few years, to total orca strangers.

Captive orcas also deal with a “language” barrier. In the early 1980s, researchers learned that orca pods have their own dialects. A Southern Resident orca vocalizes differently than a Northern Resident orca. If you put two of them together in the same tank, they won’t instantly be able to communicate.

Decades later, captive orcas still call out for their missing family in their original dialect.

That’s what’s happening with Lolita, who is trapped in a tiny concrete pool at Miami Seaquarium. Her L-Pod family swims in Puget Sound, while Lolita lives in isolation with no whales to talk to. She still cries out for her family, calling to them all the way from Florida.

Lolita’s situation is tragic. Still, many people view animal rights activism with disdain. But maybe those critics could consider viewing the issue in terms of Puget Sound pride.

In the 1960s and ’70s, SeaWorld came to our waters with airplanes, speedboats and explosives. They terrorized and captured 45 Southern Resident orcas from J, K and L pods. To this day, K Pod is especially decimated.

In 1976, Washington sued SeaWorld for permit violations and kicked SeaWorld out.

But the fight isn’t over yet. In 1995, the Orca Network began a campaign to bring Lolita home to be cared for by scientists and volunteers. They need our help writing letters to the USDA and sharing information about Lolita on social media.

Next time you look out across Puget Sound, remember that Lolita is missing, but together, we can end an orca nightmare.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at

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