Xmas Orca

Tidings of Comfort & Joy . . .

‘Xmas Luna’ is an orca of shining Christmas lights on English Bay. She’s 7 metres long, and she visits Vancouver at this time of year every year. She looks out over the beach to the Salish Sea. She’s seasonal and festive, and it’s that time of year, but she shows us less about orcas and more what we believe about them.

Xmas Luna would be frustrated if she looked for kindred in the ocean in front of her. There are only 74 resident orcas left, but Luna doesn’t seem at all concerned.

What if  Luna and the local orcas aren’t kin at all? They look somewhat similar, but this Luna is lying on her belly with her head in the air and her flukes to the sky. Millions of people have seen that pose–but they happen only in aqua-zoos. Wild orcas don’t do it.(1)

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No Whales? Maybe Walruses?

The Vancouver Aquarium gave itself a wonderful Christmas present this year. Young walruses, Lakina and Balzac, arrived just in time this December.

The aquarium and the newspapers are ecstatic about it, but we should think twice about this surprise arrival. Whether the walruses like it or not, they will be VanAq stand-ins for a long line of orcas, porpoises, and beluga stars. They will have major roles as the next generation of trophies.

Young walrus, Vancouver, aquarkum
Vancouver Staff with new walrus, Dec 2017

Walrus calves are rare. They are extremely uncommon in aquariums. Lakina and Balzak are the 7th and 8th calves born in North American aquariums in the last 90 years! (1). Only 19 other captive cows have gestated in all that time, and none of the calves survived more than a year. Lakina and Balzac are a year and a half old now, so are very special indeed.

Any problem with these new walruses, of course, would be tragic for VanAq. The preceding year was disastrous there. Four cetaceans died: porpoise, Daisy; two belugas, Aurora and Quila; and the ‘false killer whale’, Chester. Finally, that year, after years of public conflict, the Vancouver Parks Board prohibited cetaceans at the aquarium.

The only good news for the VanAq that year was the arrival of the two walruses.

Continue reading “No Whales? Maybe Walruses?”


“SnapShots” are short glimpses of the strange relationship between humans and animals. They are sometimes amusing, often tragic.

May 2017: Sea lions nibble on human divers off the British Columbia coast “to see if they’re squishy” (CBC, 25/3/2017). It seems these ones are not squishy enough to eat. They clearly could be.  One ‘squishy’ human would be tragic–for humans, that is. In the meantime, the photographer is well-equipped to capture the special moment for others.

The sea lions appear as performers for the startled and delighted  primary audience of divers. A vast additional online audience is awed. There are no bars in this particular sea event. These Sea Lions can come and go; but there’s a thrill in seeing animals close up and potentially threatening. It is part of what makes a zoo a fascinating safari. It’s a safari that tells as much about humans as it does about animals, maybe more.  (“ZooTourism” will a longer discussion of viewership, but “SnapShots” are quick introductions to issues and events).



2017: Orangutans have learned to box.


The ring opened in 2004 and continues at  Safari World animal park in Thailand. Orangutans are among the most intelligent and gentle apes but we can train them to entertain people with aggressive fights people do to others.
Boxing is difficult for the urangutan. There is, however,  a mostly forgotten and denied, enormous tradition of training chimpanzees in early 20th century America.

The wonderful Oofie, for example, has unbelievable balance! And that’s not all he can do, not by a long way. He is famous for “riding a unicycle backwards; jumping a rope on stilts; driving a jeep; operating a motorcycle; jumping hurdles on roller skates.” (postcard, c1950)

Oofie. Acrobat and much more. Postcard, c1950

It’s an astounding accomplishment both for the trainer and for the captive chimpanzee. Why we train anthropoids to imitate (and supersede) human stunts is much more astounding.

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