Orca footage, in storage for 30 years, will be shown

While some Southern Resident killer whales are still out of the area, J pod has returned to our inland waterway (Point Roberts at the moment). We also have the L-12s and a few Ks, according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

We’ll wait and see if any of these whales show up for Orca Sing tomorrow night. See my previous Water Ways entry.

There’s another interesting orca event going on next week, which is worth some attention. It’s called “Southern Resident Orcas, Then and Now: What Have We Learned?” It’s sponsored by Orca Network, the Seattle Aquarium and Puget Sound Partnership.

I’m anticipating that the highlight of this social event will be recently unearthed film footage of the 1971 killer whale capture in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. The late Don McGaffin, a reporter for KING 5 TV, became thoroughly involved in the story, asking the right questions.

Ralph Munro, former secretary of state for Washington and a longtime advocate for orcas, helped bring this dramatic footage to light and make it available for Tuesday’s event. I’ve previewed the film, which takes us back to what seems like another world.

You will see in the film orcas thrashing about in a tiny pen, as people with ropes looped around the animals try to move them around.

At one point, McGaffin sits down on a dock with the water behind him and looks into the camera.

“Whale catchers and oceanarians keep pounding the public relations drum, taking the position that one of the reasons the killer whale is taken is for scientific reasons,” McGaffin notes. “Yet some marine biologists don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that suggestion.”

McGaffin then points out that one may study the physical structure of a captive killer whale — but what about their social structure, their feeding choices, their travel patterns?

“What they really don’t know is if the whales taken by (Ted) Griffin and (Don) Goldsberry these past seven years are from the same family or the same pod, yet the captures go on.”

At the time, researchers knew little about Puget Sound orcas. Of course, McGaffin could not know that these whales would become one of the most studied marine mammal populations in the world. Today, thanks to Ken Balcomb and a convenient family structure among the whales, we can draw all the family trees going back 35 years.

The recently unearthed film also includes interviews with biologists and politicians who talk about the captures from their points of view.

“The struggle to protect the Puget Sound killer whales has many heroes,” Ralph Munro says. “Perhaps first and foremost is the late Don McGaffin of KING 5 television and publisher Wallie Funk of the Whidbey News Times newspaper. Both Don and Wallie risked their lives to get detailed pictures of the captures and the sorting of whales during the 1970s.”

Ralph will provide commentary to the film. Others expected to make comments are Bill Ruckelshaus of Puget Sound Partnership, Howard Garrett of Orca Network and Gary Chittim of KING 5 TV, who will provide more recent footage of killer whales.

Tickets are $50 per person to cover expenses. Any proceeds will go to special projects by Orca Network.

For information or to purchase tickets, go to Orca Network or call (360) 678-3451.

Ralph sent the following letter to promote Tuesday’s event:

From Ralph Munro

In the Spring of 1976, Karen and I viewed one of the most horrible things that we have ever been exposed to. It was a orca whale capture in Southern Puget Sound. We were sailing that day and watched as the pods of orcas were driven south from the Tacoma Narrows using airplanes, explosives, high speed boats, etc. It was horrific as the whales were herded into the nets. We were about 50 yards away, feeling very helpless.

Neither of us will ever forget the experience. Since that time, we have been working and fighting for orca protection all over the globe, but especially on the West Coast of America. The battles have not been won easily. There are many heroes of the effort to protect this magnificent species. We have won some fights and lost some as well.

Thankfully the Budd Inlet capture was America’s last.

One of our heroes was Don McGaffin of KING Television in Seattle. Don was involved long before we were, especially in the horrific Penn Cove captures on Whidbey Island. The film that Don took at that time has long been missing from any public viewing. It is stunning photography of what life was like for Puget Sound orcas being hunted and captured in the 1970’s.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, 6:30 p.m., at the Seattle Aquarium, we are going to show the newly discovered McGaffin footage. You will not believe your eyes, when you see it. Karen and I will be there, Bill Ruckelshaus will be there, Don’s longtime partner Mimi Sheridan will be there, as will others who stood up and said ‘NO MORE CAPTURES’.

One thought on “Orca footage, in storage for 30 years, will be shown

  1. I am the cinematgrapher from King who with Don McGaffin filmed the footage and cut the documentary called \Catch 33\ Don arranged for then Senator Warren Magnusson to view the show before it aired. Senator Magnusson then to Washington to re-write his marine mammal protection act and the rest is history.

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