Catching Killer Whales

Posted by Daniel on Apr 1, 2010 - 5 comments

The Vancouver Sun ran a front page story yesterday (here) about Chris Porter, a dolphin hunter and sometime resident of Victoria, who has decided to get out of the marine mammal trade.
Porter did his dolphin catching in the Solomon Islands. It has been illegal to capture cetaceans on the BC coast for years now but back in the late 1960s and 1970s there was a very lucrative business in killer whale hunting here.
It began in 1964 when the Vancouver Aquarium accidently captured its first killer whale, dubbed Moby Doll. The little whale took up residence in a pen at the Jericho military base on the Vancouver waterfront where the public flocked to see him. Up to that time killer whales were concerned too dangerous to keep in captivity. Moby Doll showed that instead they were amiable, intelligent creatures.
Moby Doll died of a lung infection after just a few months but it was revealed that a California aquarium had offered $25,000 for him. For the first time, a killer whale had a price tag. Aquariums were willing to pay for one, and it wasn't long before amateur hunters set out to fill the demand.
In the summer of 1965 some fishermen near Namu, a cannery village up the coast, captured a pair of orcas and sold one to the Seattle Aquarium. Pretty soon whales were being netted from Tacoma to Pender Harbour and sold into captivity. By 1973 a total of 263 animals had been captured. The stampede did not stop until 1976. (The full story is told in my book Operation Orca, written with Gil Hewlett.) Now whale watching is a feature attraction for tourists at places like Telegraph Cove and Tofino.
Whales and other marine mammals continued to be captured in Iceland and other parts of the world down to the present day. And the debate about the morality of keeping these intelligent creatures in captivity also continues.