Using Facebook to connect with another species.

I believe that our ancestors were connected to the land and environment, in ways we can scarcely imagine.

So-called primitive peoples knew how to read the sky, the weather, the stars. They knew what plants were safe to eat, where to find game, fresh water, and materials for shelter.

I read a lot about the coastal Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska while working on my sci-fi thriller, EXODUS 2022, and am in awe of the cultures that flourished here prior to European contact.

One thing that’s clear to me is that the coastal peoples were, in many ways, wealthy. They enjoyed an abundant year-round supply of food—salmon, shellfish, a variety of plant foods—lived in comfortable housing, wore beautiful, ornate clothing, and had enough free time to create magnificent works of art.

The animals of the region were integral to coastal culture and animal motifs were woven into stories, celebrated in carvings, and incorporated into architecture and household objects.

I’m guessing that a hunter from the Makah tribe of 1,000 years ago would rival the most highly trained modern wildlife biologist, in terms of knowledge of animal behavior, migration patterns and so on. I’m fairly certain such a person would have known the difference between “resident” and “transient” Orca Whales—a distinction modern scientists didn’t grasp until the 1960s.

The Europeans who invaded the Pacific Northwest and oppressed or exterminated the native peoples knew very little about the plants and animals of the region and, for the most part, didn’t care to learn.

In the case of Orca Whales for example—Europeans thought of these creatures as a menace, as savage, bloodthirsty predators (hence the name “Killer Whale”). Up until the 1960s Orca Whales were used for bombing practice and routinely shot at from boat and shore.

During the horrendous Orca Whale captures that occurred in the 1960s and 70s (detailed in the documentary film Blackfish and the book “Puget Sound Whales for Sale” by Sandra Pollard) the people in charge of the captures were completely clueless about the animals. (August 8th marks the 44th anniversary of one of the most notorious orca round-ups in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island.)

Which brings me back to Facebook. Thankfully, due to dedicated, compassionate researchers and (I believe) growing public awareness and empathy for non-human creatures, we once again have a real understanding of these magnificent animals. The Orca Network Facebook Page has more than 78,000 likes, and people up and down the Pacific Northwest coast use the page to educate and motivate, and to share sightings and migration patterns.

I live on Bainbridge Island, a few miles from Seattle, and my wife and I have observed whales from shore on numerous occasions, after being alerted by a post on Orca Network. We may not be as in tune yet as the Makah of 1,000 years ago, but we’re getting there.

Because of the SeaWorld captures and other abusive practices, there are only 79 Puget Sound Resident Orca Whales remaining on the planet. Hopefully with our newfound compassion and understanding—and the help of information sharing tools like FaceBook—we are in time to help stabilize and rebuild the population.

Do you have any Orca-related stories you’d like to share? Please let me know!

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