First Contact

On the West coast of Canada and the United States there are three indigenous cultures that are being literally poisoned out of existence and a fourth that is being endangered. They live along Puget Sound and the Straight of Georgia. With them we will loose two languages and four dialects. Birth rates within these communities have fallen dramatically in the last decade and their elders are dying prematurely from the PCBs that are building up in their tissues. These four communities are known as J, K and L pods and the transients. That these communities are composed of orcas and not homosapians should be fairly obvious at this point.

I’ve loved cetaceans most of my life, but I feel like I’d never really thought about them, and orcas in particular, until around this time last year. I was in Everret, Washington visiting my cousin Linda. She thought going whale watching would be a great way to spend a day together and I agreed. Whale watching is a big tourist draw in the Atlantic provinces where I’m from, but, perhaps for that reason, I’d never done it. It did turn out to be a great experience, even though we didn’t see any orcas that day. The tour guide was a young woman who was in law school and hoping to work for an orca/Puget Sound protection NGO. Near the end of the tour she informed us that orcas have language. I was expecting that this was a very loose definition of language, like cuttlefish communication, or some preliminary research, but when I questioned her she insisted that the research had been done it was genuine language and that they even had names in the human sense.

The prospect of language in orcas sent me scurrying to the internet, where I was greeted by a resounding silence on the topic. Only recently have I started to find the kinds of papers I was looking for. One of the founding papers on orca culture was published by researchers at Dalhousie University here in Halifax: http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/Rendell/

A somewhat more biased source, yet still interesting is Orcanetwork.org, where you can find a writeup on orca culture:http://www.orcanetwork.org/nathist/fins.html

The complete Orca Network Bibliography is here: http://www.orcanetwork.org/nathist/scifield.html#rendell

A CNN story about orcas using a planned, cooperative hunter technique to wash a seal off an ice flow. Apparently the orcas deposited the seal back on the ice flow after knocking it off. If the journalists commentary and editing is to be believed the orcas didn’t actually want to eat the seal, but were just teaching their children how tot use that technique.

I’ve daydreamed about alien life everyday since I was a small child. Science fiction was my great literature. At this point in my life I’m fairly well convinced that humanity actually made first contact with alien intelligences many thousands of years ago, and I’m not talking about the Pleiadians or the Reptilians, or whatever lost histories you prefer. I think we were, and are, too limited in perceptual range and imagination to recognize the sentient beings who have been with us all along. When we face up to what we really recognize as intelligence, it is the ability to make matter toys. It is the ability to carve bulk matter into shapes and structures to accomplish plainly recognizable physical tasks. Any other way of being, even among our own species, is either shunned, or, less often, revered as transcendental.

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