Column Robert Barron: More work needed to save orca & # 39; s

That mother-killer whale that last week spent weeks hauling her dead calf with her forehead and nose around, had to be one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

If I ever had doubts about the intelligence of these conscious creatures and their ability to feel human-like emotions, then look at J-35, the tag that the scientists gave the mother, mourned for her offspring, drove it away.

I have had many encounters with killer whales throughout Vancouver Island when I was an enthusiastic kayaker years ago, and found them one of the most fascinating animals I have ever encountered.

I have seen them hunt for seals and porpoises from my kayak, and while their attacks on their prey were typically cruel and definitive, I never felt personally at risk, despite their large size and the fact that I was in their element.

They could easily capsize my kayak and also made me a meal, but everything they ever did was close enough to check me out and then just turn around and swim away.

Dr. John Ford, a leading marine biologist at Nanaimo's Pacific Biological Station, once told me about an incident in Alaska in which a toddler of about four years old was playing in a black wet suit in about three feet of water.

The parents of the child were on the beach when they noticed that a killer whale ran ashore with their son.

The boy's back was to the sea, so he could not see the whale and the shocked parents were too far away to help in time.

But just as the whale was only a few feet from the boy, he suddenly stopped the attack, watched the now terrified boy who was just in front of him for a few seconds, then swam away nonchalantly.

Ford suggested that the whale, with the black wet suit on, probably confused the boy from a distance for a seal, one of the favorite delicacies of the killer whale.

It is a fact that there has never been a confirmed attack of a killer whale in its natural habitat on a human being anywhere in the world and I believe that this is because they are intelligent enough to recognize us as co-living beings that should not be damaged.

That is why I found it so sad to see that the mother's orca drove her dead offspring into the desperate hope that the calf might come back to life.

Killer whales, especially the pods that live full-time in the Strait of Georgia, are in crisis.

The decline of the salmon populations in the strait and the ever increasing pollution by the urban centers along the coasts have played a role in the ever increasing mortality rates of the pods that live full-time in those waters.

Industrial poisons such as PCBs and other pollutants that penetrate their ecosystems have accumulated so high in the whales that some individual animals qualify for treatment as "hazardous material".

The toxins accumulate in the fat tissues of the whales and can have a dramatic impact on their health when food supplies shrink and the fat of the whale begins to break down to compensate.

If we do not do something quickly to help these beautiful creatures, future generations will not experience the miracle we do when we see them in their natural habitat.

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