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A Mighty and True Vision It was the story of a powerful vision given to a man too weak to use; of a sacred tree that should have grown in the hearts of a people full of flowers and singing birds; and of a people's dream. But if that vision was true and powerful, as I know, then it is still true and powerful today; for such are the things of the spirit, and people get lost in the darkness of their eyes. Black Elk196 "The whaling operations of the 1960s and 1970s were very important - especially when young whales were caught," Ken says. "They led to long-term problems." The community of southern residents comprised around 120 whales before the whaling operations; after that there were only around 70 animals. The population slowly recovered, returning to 99 whales in the 1990s. But over the years when the whales that were captured and abducted as babies should have been the new generation of parents, the rate of reproduction has declined. The stock stagnated. Forty years later, the population is falling again - and currently stands at around 80 whales. Every year there are one or two fewer animals. There is also another, more long-term problem: food. There is not enough. The Canadian northern residents number about 260 animals, their numbers have increased in the last decade. Recently, this growth has slowed, perhaps even stopped. “No reproduction - almost none - that's a real setback,” Ken complains. “At the beginning of the study, I was mainly concerned with the new whales that were born. I wanted to see what experiences they had growing up. But then the first died very young. " 481A powerful and true vision "You can see something very bizarre here," explains Ken and opens the identification catalog for all whales of the southern residents. "The entire population of the southern residents now includes only two dozen females of reproductive age." If each of them gave birth to a cub every five years, there would be five newborns every year. That would be normal. «Yes - but there was only one birth last year. And this year only a whale baby was born, the child of J-28. It was washed ashore, dead. " Bad physical condition. First we took the children away from them, then we destroyed their food supply. In the long term, the fate of the whales follows the fate of their food. The mammalian “transients” from the northwest have more food today than they did forty years ago - and they are appearing more and more frequently. The reason for this is the recovery of the population of seals, sea lions and whales in the last few decades, thanks to legal protection regulations such as the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the international whaling ban that came into force in 1986 and the UN's ban on driftnet fishing in 1991 By the 1960s, British Columbia's seal population had dropped to ten percent of normal, and many Steller sea lion colonies had disappeared, largely because fishermen shot anything that looked like "competition." That got better, too.197 But life was becoming increasingly difficult for the fish-eating whales in the northwest. A salmon protection law was never enacted. Therefore, after several decades of mistreatment, only a fraction of the salmon that were once plentiful fight their way up the rivers. As a result, resident whales that catch salmon also have to fight. They have lived below the waterline for a long time. Now they also live below the poverty line. Worryingly, as you scroll through the ID database, you can see that there are no longer any living females of reproductive age in some resident families. For example, the family that Ken is showing me now consists only of males, apart from the matriarch, who has already reached menopause. He looks at me as I realize what that means: the whole family is doomed. In fact, so many families are struggling today that the only survivable whale school of the southern residents is the J school. Your intimate knowledge of these coastal waters is likely to help the J school whales. L- and K-whales mostly migrate further out through the ocean from the Central Coast in California to British Columbia. Ken goes to the L School Birth and Death Directory. "Just look at all these tombstones," he asks me, almost sadly. The icons show whales that have died. Many died young. Some very young. More than 40 percent of babies die before they are one year old. But now whale death rates of both sexes and ages are relatively high. Looking at the composition of all families in the L and K schools feels like realizing that you have been checkmated step by step in chess. There is no way out. If the current trend continues, these schools will be gone in a few decades. King salmon seem to have a lot to do with whale death. This is hardly surprising, because 65 percent of the residents eat king salmon. The southern residents used to show up here once a month. Summer and autumn were their busiest times, when they often formed super school aggregations. Back then, these festivities lasted much longer than they do today. “There was really an incredible amount of fish here,” Ken remembers vividly. “There were perhaps a million and a half red and humpback salmon swimming by alongside several hundred thousand king salmon. Many king salmon weighed ten pounds or more, and the whales only needed about ten fish a day. They all hung out and made fun! They sometimes nosed a salmon or laid it over their backs. It was all very playful, and all the community life took place right outside my window. " As I look out the window at the expanse of the ocean strait, Ken looks into the past, and a small part of him seems to want to disappear in memory. His voice changes when he adds wistfully: “That was a much, much more productive system. From May to October we had enough fish in this street to feed hundreds of killer whales for the whole bloody summer. And enough for the human fishermen. Then there was massive overfishing here and the rivers were destroyed by all the dams and deforestation and the stock of the most typical of all fish in this region collapsed. And the whale population was also slowly declining. " The party mood is gone. Today schools split up quickly after shorter, less lively meetings. The J School may look around the Fraser River, the L School may swim back to the entrance of the strait, and the K School may head for another island. In winter, when the fish are more dispersed anyway, the whales have to spend more time searching for food. The whales, as Ken says, “are becoming more business-oriented. More serious. Less playful ». The schools stay away from each other; then the individual families go on their way and the schools break apart. Individual members of schools can be scattered over an area eighteen by five kilometers, and they bridge the gaps with their votes. And they go on long hikes. Looking for an existence. How far they are is hard to imagine: All southern residents - all three schools together - currently consist of eighty-one whales. Eighty-one individuals scattered from about the middle of Vancouver Island in Canada to Monterey Bay in California. Eighty one. Imagine a small community of eighty-one people, and imagine that those eighty-one people were the only people between Boston and the Florida border - or between Chicago and Houston, or between the Montana southern border and the border patrol at Juarez in Mexico, or between Milan and Madrid - this will give you an idea of ​​what "critically endangered" means. From the distant past until yesterday, two million king salmon in this region were just a small bonus that the whales could reap between parties, a small bonus that they could pocket without anyone noticing, the price the world received for the honor their presence paid. Or to put it scientifically, because it was so easy to pick up a few million king salmon, fifteen thousand fish-eating dolphins could evolve and specialize so much that they ignored most other species of salmon, almost every other fish every single seal that crossed their path. In other words: the whale population is eighty-one animals. Even if a whale ate thirty salmon a day (three times what they probably need), the Columbia River would have it alone - to which five to ten million adult salmon returned each year before dam builders, loggers, and fishermen disrupted the system - can care for five hundred killer whales. That doesn't even include California's Sacramento-San-Joaquin System, Fraser in British Columbia, and the many millions of fish that pour in and out of the salmon rivers in between each year. There could be thousands of killer whales along this coast.198 Toxic chemicals are also of no help. Being at the top of the food chain doesn't just mean getting all of the nutrients floating in the ocean in packets of live meat that swim towards you in the form of a miracle called "salmon". Today, toxic chemicals build up up the food pyramid, from plankton to small and large fish to whales - chemicals that didn't even exist in the first half of the 20th century, when the oldest living whales were born. The southern fish-eating resident killer whales drag five times more venom around their bodies than the seals that live very close to their territory. Mammalian-eating transients - in which the poison eaten by the seals is further enriched - are likely to have fifteen times the poisonous exposure of seals.199 When mammals convert fat into milk, the poisons are retained. Babies are born with a toxic inheritance, and their mothers' milk adds to their toxic load from day one. This applies to the seal-eating killer whales as well as to the seal-eating human inhabitants of the Arctic. Banned chemicals like DDT and PCB - which caused birth defects in seals in Puget Sound in the 1970s - are in decline. On the other hand, fire retardants and other new chemicals with an estrogen-like effect are increasing. These chemicals weaken the immune system and can disrupt the reproductive system. 485A Mighty and True Vision After forty years of work, Ken is haunted by a dark premonition: that the whales, to whom he has dedicated his life, to whom he has met and protected, are doomed. Ken is a happy person. He loves the whales. It obviously gives him a kick every time he sees where they are, watching their antics, their joy. But behind his laugh lines there is a chronic longing. Here in his dream apartment, his eagle's nest, surrounded by mountains and flowing waters and this magical strait - exactly where he wants to be - Ken can never come home again. "Whales often live forty to fifty years," says Ken, "but when they are all but reproducing ..." He hesitates for a moment, as if looking for a memory. He's telling me for the second time that he'd like to be optimistic, but that what should help the most - if the salmon stock recovered - is unlikely to happen. The fishermen are determined to squeeze the last of the fish stocks; the authorities are too caught up in political processes and relationships; the deforestation is killing the rivers; there are too many dams, chemical poisons; diseases are hatched on the salmon farms. That would be too much. But ... ... it doesn't stop there. Ken shows me photos of the three-year-old female L-112, aka Victoria - a “cute little whale”, says Ken. «The favorite of all whale watchers here, very playful. She jumped all the time. Very open-minded and lively. A really charismatic whale. Simply a treasure. " Found dead. Look at these photos. Her body looks like she was beaten to death. The whole head was covered with bleeding wounds, blood in the eyes and ear canals. I try to process the images while Ken says, “We heard whales over the hydrophones. It was night Then we heard the sonar of the Navy. And then an explosion. Based on my Navy experience, my guess is that it happened about 150 kilometers away. Immediately after the explosion you get all the frequencies in, but the longer wavelengths take a different path and arrive at distant sensors earlier than the shorter wavelengths; So when one is far away, one hears a rising sound. And that's exactly what we heard. Then the K and L schools fled towards Discovery Bay, beyond Protection Island in front of the Olympic Peninsula, where they were somewhat sheltered from the noise. “A warship had crossed the border from Canadian to US waters at Neah Bay, then returned to Canadian territory at Constance Bank outside Victoria and detonated one last demolition there. The Canadian military admitted that several detonations had been triggered. And the US Navy must have been involved too. " I looked at him. “Yes,” continues Ken, “it's hard to understand why live bombs are dropped in a marine reserve. Canadians claim they searched the area for whales before the explosions. Then why did we hear whales at Folger Deep and Neah Bay during the exercise, but the military acoustic surveillance did not detect them? I just asked that L-86 with her daughter Victoria, whose death at the age of three was probably caused by a bomb, although the US Navy denied it. 487 A mighty and true vision of the sharp bombs being detonated off the mainland shelf. Nothing has changed." I look back at the pictures of L-112 while Ken continues: “I think a bomb from a training flight killed this little whale. The explosion tore the ossicles straight from their suspension, so it must have happened less than a kilometer from the whale. " Ken explains: “When the shock wave hits, the rapid compression of air in body cavities such as the ears creates such a large vacuum that adjacent blood vessels - which are under pressure - explode inward. Once they burst, that's it; they just keep bleeding. These are the bleeding wounds. Military sonar alone can cause fatal bleeding at a distance of a few hundred meters. " If the bleeding doesn't kill immediately, the ears fill with blood, says Ken. “And - with headaches and hearing loss or when you lose consciousness underwater - you are definitely done for. Here in this photo the little one is swimming behind her mother, and you can see that she is healthy and in good physical condition… ”Ken shakes his head. "We were really pleased that a small female whale grew up there and increased the chances of reproduction, which was sorely needed." Another female, L-60, thirty years old, was washed ashore on the beach with bruises on her neck and head, suggesting a pressure trauma. The photo of her body looks like the police photo of someone who was beaten to death. So much for the "protection" that one enjoys as an endangered species. There is a submarine base, a destroyer base, and a submarine hunter base nearby, through which billions of dollars are flowing into Washington State for armaments contracts. And the Navy is determined to do its thing. Here is a photo of a beaked whale with one bloodshot eye. Twenty or thirty years ago hundreds of bleeding seals washed ashore nearby. Harbor porpoises also died in the area after Navy exercises. The week I spend with Ken, I read an email: “The US Navy says it will adopt a unanimous recommendation from the California Coas- 488 The Song of the Whale Valley Commission, The Harmful Effects of Ship Sonar on Marine Mammals State decrease, ignore.The Navy is planning an enormous expansion of its use of dangerous sonar and high-performance bombs off the coast of southern California in exercises and test runs. She reckons that hundreds of marine mammals will be killed - and thousands more injured - in operations like this over the next five years. New research has shown that… ”The Natural Resources Defense Council is working to prevent this from happening or to get the plan modified. The Navy is conducting such operations on both coasts. For years they bombed Vieques Island off the coast of Puerto Rico - where people live - until eventually someone died and they were thrown out. This is done all over the world. And not just by the military. After an oil company used high-intensity sonar, whales stranded en masse in northwest Madagascar in 2008.200 The pressure to develop new oil wells and train them for more and more bombing attacks is increasing steadily. In 1996, NATO troops drove a group of beaked whales onto the beach during an exercise off the Greek coast. This was the first documented incident in which military sonar killed whales. Beaked whales dive particularly deep. Usually they come to the surface, breathe, then do a couple of shallow dives to avoid decompression sickness while releasing excess dissolved nitrogen from the blood. When they have to flee to the surface from excruciatingly loud sonar, nitrogen bubbles can form in their blood. It is unclear whether this actually happens. But one thing is clear: Navy sonar kills healthy whales. Killer whales. Beaked whales. Minke whales. Minke Sperm whales. Dolphins. "If you connect several sonar transducers in series and create a sound beam, you can trigger a huge pressure wave that travels fifty kilometers with high intensity," Ken tells me. “This is standard today when tracking down enemy submarines. Many navies around the world are now using this. " Ken suspects that less than one percent of the whales killed are found. He believes thousands are killed every year. “Every time they drop a real bomb for exercise, everything in an air-filled cavity dies within a kilometer of a powerful and true vision. Ten kilometers away you only get a few bruises or maybe a cerebral hemorrhage. If we watch a sonar exercise here, and see the suffering and anxiety in all the whales, and suddenly a dozen porpoises are washed up dead, then we tell the Navy that we blame them. But the military control the investigations and the reports. Then they say: 'None of this is conclusive.' You take no responsibility. " All over the ocean, our secret war games testify to the strength of our belief that we cannot trust our own species. In March 2000, several whales were washed ashore in the Bahamas right in front of the house where Ken was staying. British and American ships were there. On Miami TV and on the 60 Minutes newscast, Ken said he believed the Navy caused their deaths. “You denied everything for about a month. Have become more and more entangled in contradictions. We had photos. " Finally they admitted it. "My Navy buddies seem to think I'm an enemy," says Ken, sounding a little disappointed. “It's a shame because I'm a patriot. I was in the military. But I was the one who unpacked through the sonar, so… “Whales have votes, but no political say. They are in the same situation as tribal groups, like farmers, indigenous people, like the poor and most of us: underrepresented, overwhelmed by the big money of heavily armed, weak-willed people who never notice that they already have too much, who are politically networked and yet have lost all contact with themselves and the world. How would it feel to be filled with joy? To torment oneself through days inconsolable overshadowed with joy; deeply struck by overwhelming, paralyzing beauty; immobilized by amazement; struck down by curiosity; only to be able to appreciate everything; only to be able to ask euphorically: «Why me? Why am I so lucky? " That would be great. P 490 The Song of the Whales Next, Ken and I want to find and identify some whales that we heard about over the radio. In Ken's boat on Haro Street, we come under a heavy, rapidly moving weather system that alternates between autumn rain and late summer sun. Two or three seagulls keep an eye on the whales from the air. Shortly afterwards, not two kilometers from the coast, right in front of Ken's house, we are driving next to large, two-colored whales through a two-colored world. The water is slate blue and the hills look slate blue, and the whales are slate black and cloud white. Representatives of the L and K schools are here. Ken is fine there. He smiles mischievously and says: “If I didn't have to live on land, then I would live with them. Let me drift Fish, family ... 'The old joke. He laughs. He's partly serious. Fifty whales move through a much larger area than I had first seen. They swim south at a steady speed, breathe steadily, emerge with light bubbles, sink back down and then slowly rise again. But despite the apparent effortlessness, its dynamism is impressive. They are graceful and radiate lightness, but their sheer size makes every movement seem like a surging sentence forward. I think it is almost impossible that these beings, real and ancient and imposing, who need so much that we have taken away from them, will survive. I can hardly believe that our lives overlapped in time and place. I really hope you can do it. After a short time we reach Pile Point, where the whales prefer to hunt salmon in the region. The tidal currents build up there, then shoot quickly around the headland, creating a stable gathering point for salmon looking for food and for whales looking for salmon. The fishermen also know this place. Several whales dive steeply into the depths with a hump. The fish have their attention below. Other whales quickly cut the surface of the water and suddenly change direction. Ken calls this maneuver "sharking". You are pursuing something with determination. The whale closest to us, right behind us, is L-92. The giant one here 491A powerful and true vision with the tall, wavy dorsal fin is K-25. He dives a couple of times with his back high and churns up the water with a splash. He's after a big single fish. He dives away. When it suddenly breaks through the water surface again, I am amazed at its mass and its powerful movements. "Do you see how they work their way to the coast there?" Ken explains the scene to me. They drive salmon towards the coast, compacting them a little. «Quite leisurely. You have maybe a hundred fish there. The whales will work the salmon slowly, they don't want them to panic. They shove them into swarms and look for stragglers or individual animals that move away from the group. You just drive them along. That is their method. Every now and then a fish falls behind a little or strays too far from school. Then they grab him. " We're doing the rounds so Ken can finalize his inventory for today. We have an extraordinary job here in the midst of these whales that work and eat so actively. I remember Ken often saying he would be with them if he could. As I watch him, I realize that he already is in very real ways, more than anyone else. He dives with them into his great store of knowledge, his unique knowledge about these whales and their network, which he has accumulated in his life. Here we have K-22, K-25, K-37, L-83, L-116, he tells me. … He knows her. He knows where they come from. He knows her life because her life was his life. At this moment you are his life. We are sitting here in a small boat among them while they are vigorously on the hunt. But Ken and I and the whales agree that neither of us has anything to fear. I'm just afraid for my camera under this cloudy sky, which is pouring a light rain shower over us. To be in the middle of these raging killer whales - that doesn't scare me. Ken checks his telephoto lens and swings it around skillfully. Here, with his whales, he becomes - as every time - the young man with the camera who longs to find out more about them. More wild diving, water fountains splash up. Somewhere down there, where their life takes place, there is a lot going on. They dive so effortlessly into a realm into which we cannot follow them. That's what I'm afraid of. Not that they pounce on me, but that they go away. "Okay, get ready," Ken warns me. "The photo with the fish in its mouth is the best." We keep taking picture after picture. There are many repetitive operations involved in this work. Endless identification, cataloging, observation and tracking. But it is beautiful and important work, almost a sacred search for more intimacy. Not just with the whales. With the world. Who has been with us in our lifetime? This question fuels constant remembering, prevents forgetting. Who is here now Ken has been asking this question for forty years, like a religious meditation. And answers came, even wisdom. But not a perfect enlightenment. We only know the surface. Ken photographs their backs, measures their lifespan and dedicates his days to them. But they are in control, the full extent of their lives remaining mysterious as effortlessly as holding their breath. We need greater familiarity. We need to take this short chance in our lives to get to know these wondrous neighbors. The sky sprinkles us with raindrops, which condense into a drizzle and hissing into the water around us. Reluctantly, Ken says, “That's it for today. I've ruined enough cameras. Tomorrow is also a day." But after we've stowed the cameras, we'll stay a little longer. We sit in the rain and watch. For a while, black fins vividly scribble their stories on the slate of the sea all around us. I read them as carefully as I can knowing that the sea will soon erase what has been written and that we have no backup.