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L62 Cetus

A Young Hero

I felt an emotional connection to Cetus and his Mom Ophelia {L-27}.  She was born the year my Mom died and had Cetus when she was 15.  He was her eldest son and he was born in 1980 soon after I gave birth to my eldest daughter.


Early in my research I began reading an excerpt about Cetus in Leigh Calvez' book The Breath of a Whale which tells a story in October of 1997 when a family of 19 orcas from Lpod entered shallow Dyes Inlet, near Silverdale, Washington.  They were chasing a run of Chum Salmon   They enticed enthusiastic onlookers including the author who drove 45 minutes each direction to stand on shore and watch through binoculars as they swam back and forth.


At first she was excited that they were visiting so near her home on the Puget Sound.  But soon realized small private boats turned into whale- watching vessels and the crowds grew and may be causing harm.  One day 500 small boats and kayaks surrounded the orca family, trapping them against the shore.


At weeks 3 and 4 they started to show signs of starvation; developing the 'peanut head", a shallow depression behind a whale's blowhole that forms when the layers of blubber become thin from a lack of food.  She was concerned why they stayed even though it was hazardous to their health.   Why didn't they just swim away?  Scientists felt they were trapped.  


Finally on a rainy mid-November morning they swam toward the bridges that span the pass toward Puget Sound.  The traffic on the bridge was minimal.  Each day they stayed in Dyes Inlet the whales had approached the bridge-some days more than once-but every time they had turned back.  On the day  of their escape, however, in small groups of two or three,the whales dove deep and swam under the first bridge-all except little 2year old Nerka {L-93} and her mother Ophelia {L27}.


They stopped and the rest of the pod waited on the opposite side.  Just when it seemed the pod would give up and turn back yet again, 17 year old Cetus {L-62} turned and went back for his mother and little sister.  The family dove deep together and came up on the other side of the bridge, heading toward the open waters of Puget Sound.  So Cetus deserves the medal for bravery I depicted on his flag!


As it turned out, it was the underwater noise from the cars driving over the bridge that had trapped the orcas.  The sound had become an acoustic net, a psychological barrier; it frightened the youngest member of the family, and thus trapped them all.


For almost 30 days, the entire pod had endured the noise from the boat traffic and risked starvation, because they would not leave any member of their family behind,  Now less than 5 years later a newspaper article revealed that Cetus was among the missing whales.


Sad to say Cetus lived barely past teenhood; it is so tragic that he disappeared just when he was coming of age to mate. I can only hope there were many joyful moments.


We can think of him when we gaze at the constellation of the same name.  .Actually it is in the Southern Hemisphere along with Pisces and Aquarius.   I did get to view those Southern Constellations when Tim and I sailed across the equator in 2017,  Strange to see the Southern Cross instead of the North Star.


I highly encourage you to read The Breath of a Whale and also Listening to Whales by Alexandra Morton.  


Respectfully,  Citizen Scientist, Sandra Johnson

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