In the mid-70s, as a young undergraduate at the University of Washington, I got involved in orca watching. It wasn’t a big deal, I had these identification cards for the J, K, and L pods, and on weekends I’d either go to lookouts on the Puget Sound coast, or on a couple of occasions, took thrilling rides on a university oceanographic vessel. It was long, long ago, and it feels like it. How did I end up in the Midwest, I dunno.
Anyway, this makes me sad. The Puget Sound orcas are not doing great, with their stocks of their favorite food, salmon, diminishing. Who’s responsible for that, I dunno. Now one of the charismatic killer whales, K21 Cappuccino, has died.
K21 Cappuccino was a gregarious, curious, and kindly orca. He liked to engage in play behaviors—breaching, spyhopping, slapping his pectoral fins. And he was generally quite fearless about approaching human boaters who were in his waters. He seemed to always be curious about the crazy monkeys.
The 35-year-old male, sadly, has now joined the procession of endangered Southern Resident killer whales who have been dying at precipitous rates over the past five years, reducing the entire population now to 74 whales. He was last seen a week ago in a badly emaciated state, struggling against the tidal currents on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, far behind the rest of his clan; it is presumed that he has since died.
I never even knew this whale — he was born after I’d left the West coast and was living in Utah, of all places. Whole generations of orcas have lived and died (mostly died, it seems) since I abandoned the Pacific shores, and now I’m sad for what never was and will never be.