On Monday afternoon there was a commemoration ceremony at Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island to mark the loss of J6, also known as "Ralph," a 42-year-old male orca who disappeared in 1998. We can be sure he died since membership in the family continues for the whales' entire lifetimes. Readers of this list may have read the announcement of the ceremony for J6 last week.
The three pods of the Southern Resident community, J, K and L pods, (Lolita's extended family) generally travel in groups of subpods hundreds of miles apart, sometimes up and down the west side of San Juan Island during summer months, as well as ranging far north into Canada, south into Puget Sound and west into the Pacific Ocean. About five or six times per year all three pods get together somewhere in their vast habitat and engage in what is called a "superpod." It's an active time, including much breaching, tail-lobbing and spyhopping as small groups and individuals move rapidly among the community, meet up, greet one another and frolic together.
At 1:30 PM on Monday, the announced time of the ceremony for J6, a superpod event of the Southern community commenced within a few hundred yards of Lime Kiln Lighthouse. The two ceremonies took place simultaneously.
Below is a first person report by Susan Berta.
August 23rd....It was a beautiful day in the San Juans. The sun that's been eluding us all summer shone brightly - the whales, who hadn't been around for a few days, were travelling north up the west side of San Juan Island, arriving at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse precisely at 1:30 p.m, just as Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro began his "Goodbye to Ralph (J6)" speech.
Incredibly, as Ralph began his talk, he was interrupted & upstaged by an amazing show of support from J6's family (but I don't think he minded...)! All three pods went frolicking by, with no less than SIX full breaches exploding right behind Ralph as he spoke of his strong connection with the whales, & J6 in particular, & what a great loss it is to us all to lose J6 the other whales that did not return this year. Ralph's connection with he whales was clearly obvious to everyone there who witnessed that magical moment that was just too perfect & precise to be a mere coincidence. Magic, maybe, but not coincidence.
Ralph & his wife Karen also spoke of Lolita, & of their hopes & efforts to bring her back to her family in Puget Sound. Ralph & Karen are clearly dedicated & committed to our neighboring community of whales. They are working not only for Lolita's freedom, but for the "whale-being" of all of J, K & L pods. They emphasized the importance of keeping their habitat clean & healthy, bringing back the salmon runs, & reducing other human impacts, such as harrassment by whale watchers & recreational boaters.
After the speech, Ralph & Karen tossed a wreath into the water to honor the passing of their beloved J6, & the other whales we lost this year, & laid roses on the rocks in their memory.
These losses were heartbreaking for us all - but to witness the rest of the pods' frolicking & breaching, the new babies leaping clear out of the water, full of life & vigor - was a vivid reminder to us all that we need to keep fighting for their whale-being & safety, & for a healthier habitat for them to swim in. And we need to keep fighting for Toki's freedom - to reunite her with her family so she can frolic & breach & swim freely with her own kind, & someday have some babies of her own to help the Southern Resident Community bounce back from the losses of the past few years.
I am so thankful to have been a witness to the magic of yesterday's enthusiastic display by our whale friends, & to know that we have amazingly wonderful people like Ralph & Karen Munro working for Lolita & her family's whalefare. And I can't think of anyone more deserving of a "Six-Breach Salute"! I believe the whales know much more than we realize, & they know that Ralph is a true friend who will never cease his struggle for their safety & freedom~
The Tokitae Foundation