Journal: News & Comment

Monday, March 12, 2001
# 11:01:00 AM:

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Whale day

[Note added April 24, 2002: I have finally put one of my photos of Bjossa on this site, after discovering many people coming here via search engines looking for such a shot. The photo was taken the same day I posted this journal entry, and my daughter (she has much more hair now) is in the foreground. Bjossa died last year, a few months after the picture was taken.]

My wife and I took our two daughters to the Vancouver Aquarium yesterday morning, as we often do. But yesterday something unusual happened.

We were watching Bjossa, the Aquarium's last remaining orca whale (who will be leaving the Aquarium for another facility where she can be with other orcas), in the underwater viewing area. My daughter was perched on the ledge by the window.

I've seen Bjossa and her late tank-mate Finna -- as well as their predecessor, Skana, one of the first killer whales in captivity -- come up to the glass and eye us humans before. This time, however, she stared quite distinctly at my daughter, then turned her nose to the window and let out a loud underwater whistle that we could hear right through the glass, which is inches thick and normally almost completely soundproof. Next, she did it again. My youngest, startled, was a bit upset.

A few minutes later, after Bjossa had swum away into another part of the tank, we had our little girl at the glass again, observing Whitewings, the dolphin who shares Bjossa's habitat. Bjossa returned, and again came straight to us (ignoring the other kids who were calling out and waving at other windows). She let out another few whistles, then swam off.

That evening, after the kids were asleep, I happened to catch a 1997 National Geographic documentary on the Knowledge Network called "Sea Monsters: Search for the Giant Squid." It included some of the most amazing video footage I've ever seen: a group of sperm whales diving to 400 metres off the coast of New Zealand, recorded by a "crittercam" attached to one whale's back (!).

The whales were hunting for giant squid (genus Archeteuthis), about which I wrote a research paper more than ten years ago during my studies for my Marine Biology degree. Unfortunately, the whales didn't catch or even see one -- had they done so, it would have been the first recording of a live giant squid ever. So far, the crittercam has had no further luck finding giant squid. Perhaps someday.


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