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The Sacred Whale

The Dorsal Spin
Granny (J2) and Ruffles (J1) off Maury Island. Photo © Mark Sears.

In observance of Native American Heritage Month, we -- Orca Annie and Odin Lonning -- will present “THE SACRED WHALE: Requiem for Ruffles (J1),” on Thursday, November 20, at 7:00 PM in the Vashon Land Trust Building. Though we will provide an update on the status of our endangered Southern Resident killer whales, we intend for this year’s talk to be primarily a loving reflection on Ruffles and other Resident orcas, past and present.

Orcas are not merely research subjects to us. They are our esteemed relatives, venerated teachers, and fellow First Nations. Resident killer whales and Pacific salmon, their preferred food, are sacred to Coastal Native peoples. Western science alone is not saving the Salish Sea’s orcas or salmon. Recovering these imperiled species requires divergent thinking, outside the current resource-oriented paradigm. Traditional ecological knowledge offers vital perspective.

Magnificent elder male Ruffles (J1) had gravitas. He disappeared in November 2010 when he was about 59 years old. He was the longest-lived male among J, K and L Pods. His death was devastating to orcas and humans. Genetic studies show that he fathered many Southern Resident offspring. The Southern Resident Community appears to be struggling with the loss of J1.

Ruffles (J1) is not the only sacred whale we will commemorate. We find solace in the heartening saga of Kéetla/Springer (A73) and her calf Spirit (A104). Kéetla put an irresistible face on orca recovery issues.

Tickets for “THE SACRED WHALE” are available in advance at the Vashon Bookshop, or by calling 463-9041. Suggested donations of $8.00 general admission or $6.00 for seniors/students help to offset costs of staging the event -- room rental, publicity, printing, etc. Proceeds benefit the Vashon Hydrophone Project and Vashon Marine Mammal Stranding Response.

The time for Odin’s “Sweetgrass & Cedar” artist talk has changed since the announcement in the last issue of The Loop. On Saturday, November 8, at 6:00 PM in the Hastings-Cone Gallery, Odin will talk about how fundamentals of Tlingit art and culture inspire his work. Native societies do not compartmentalize art. First Nations embrace the intimate connections among art, science, sense of place, and spirituality. Indigenous wisdom now commands more attention from a world rapidly losing biological and cultural diversity.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at and check for updates at