My friend, Kristen, @ We Be Reading, posted a couple of tweets recently that were heart wrenching to me. She and I share a common interest: we both deeply care about the Puget Sound’s resident pods of Orcas. In her tweets, she announced the deaths of two of those orcas within the last few months. This is very sad and concerning news for all of us, but for me the news was extra sad because I had a very personal connection to these whales.
Early in my teaching career, a science unit from a textbook included a little information about whales. For both me and my students, that unit of study sparked a fascination with whales and with Orcas in particular. We left the textbook and started reading everything we could find about whales.
Somewhere in our reading, we discovered the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, which has wonderful educational and adoption programs that help support the research and care of the Puget Sound’s three resident pods of orcas. Even though we lived far from the ocean, my 5th graders that year became passionate whale advocates and decided that they wanted to raise some money and “adopt” a whale. They collected aluminum cans for months, and finally raised enough money to adopt one of the orcas.
After reading the biography of each orca in all three pods, they chose “Oreo,” a very young whale in J-Pod. (Click here to “meet the whales,” ) We sent in our money and didn’t have to wait very long for our adoption papers to come through. Each student received their own adoption certificate and extensive information about Oreo and the other orcas. It was an exciting time in our classroom!
Over the years of my teaching career, I taught my “whale unit” many times and to many different age groups. Three other classes wanted to go through the adoption process. One group of 6th graders adopted DoubleStuf , and a few years later a class of 2nd graders adopted Cookie. Both DoubleStuf and Cookie were male offspring of Oreo, my first adopted whale. I announced to my students that those two adoptions made me a whale grandma!
Needless to say, learning and teaching about the orcas was a favorite part of my teaching career. The excitement and enthusiasm of my students as they went through this learning process was wonderful to experience. I loved their surprise when they first learned that these magnificent beings live in a matriarchal society lead by an amazing matriarch called Granny; that they are incredibly social animals and their culture is highly organized; that they support each other in heartwarming ways, even “babysitting” for each other, nursing the ill, and raising the offspring of family members that die.
I was an incredibly lucky teacher in that twice over my teaching years, the parents of my students were very happy to provide the funds, organization, and volunteers to enable our class (and the other classes at our grade level) to go on a whale watching tour so we could see our whales in the wild. Those were the most thrilling field trips of my career!
I was so saddened by the recent announcements of the sudden death of Doublestuf and the death of Granny at approximately 105 years of age. I know my former students, wherever they are, would be saddened by these losses, too, because these whales touched our lives and our hearts in a very profound way.
Links you might be interested in visiting:
- The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, WA
- New article about Granny’s death
- In Memorium
- Orca Network Demographics of the Puget Sound resident pods of orcas since 1998.
- Meet the whales Information about the orcas in all three resident pods of the Puget Sound
- Orca Spirit Adventures This organization was not the one we used for our field trips, but it looks like a wonderful group!
Some books about Orcas:
- Granny’s Clan, by Sally Hodson
- Davy’s Dream, A Young Boy’s Adventure with Wild Orca Whales, by Owen Paul Lewis
- O is for Orca, by Andrea Helman
- A book list from Orca Network