Orca Soundings: An Art Event for the Last of the Southern Resident Orca.

The Salish Sea is reknowned for its natural beauty, wildlife, artists, musicians, craftsmanship and the diversity of cultures and ecosystems. One of the greatest joys for visitors to the Salish Sea is a sighting of a pod of Southern Resident Orca. As of January 3, 2017 there were only 78 of these whales left. With the recent death of J34 ‘DoubleStuf’ and J2 ‘Granny’ declared missing, the toll of deaths for 2016 rose to 71 whales. The J, K and L pods are perched on the brink of extinction. To survive, they need a secure source of salmon, a safe soundscape and unpolluted waters.

Scientists, studying the Southern Residents, report that any project which increases tanker traffic, noise, pollutants can kill whales. Oil spills will be the final straw pushing them into extinction. Raincoast Conservation Foundation launched a judicial review to defend this endangered population, coincidentally on the same day that J34 was found dead—most likely due to injuries by a ship. Since that date, a pod of citizens have been circling together to create an art event that will help raise awareness about the status of the orca.2

Since the harpooning of Moby Doll in 1964, the Southern Resident Orca have grabbed the world’s attention. When people witnessed Moby Doll’s rescue by her family members, they first heard their gentle language voiced to the distressed young whale. We now know that whales live in societies of intergenerational family pods that communicate in dialects and are headed by matriarchs that can live as long as humans. Since those early days, this population has become the most intensively-studied group of marine mammals anywhere in the world, with every individual’s lineage carefully documented. The poignant dialects of the family groups require a quiet sea to transmit and hear. The name of the project, Orca Soundings, resonates with the importance of sound in their lives. Sounding is also the term for a whale’s downward dive —a metaphor for going deep into the topic of their survival.

Orca Sounding is an art project using whale sculptures and their human guardians, in a performance that reflects the wide spread knowledge of—both traditional and scientific— and love for these whales. Every person involved in the project will be linked to an individual whale, and bring their own specific skills and story to the project. The culmination of this project will be a coming together of all 78 Orca3 in a live performance that will reach as many people as possible. The stories of the whales and people will be captured in film, art, song, performance and social media.