The story of J35, a Pacific Northwest orca went through the press like wildfire this week. The mother orca’s calf died just a few minutes after birth. She had carried the baby in her womb for 17 months, which one can imagine created a strong emotional bond with the baby. J35 or Tahlequah then went on and has been carrying her dead calf for more than 10 days through the ocean.
The calf’s body continues drifting down towards the bottom of the ocean. As we speak, J35 is still bringing the calf back up to the surface and pushing it towards the San Juan islands. As if the mother is hoping for the baby to come back to life by being on the surface.
Note that this species of killer whale is on the list of animals threatened by extinction.
National Geographic called it: Orca’s Death Vigil Shows Complexity of Killer Whale Emotions.
There are multiple layers to this story and multiple reasons why this is a dramatic example of human failure.
The first problem is the fact that these stories make headlines and that suddenly the public is reminded of feelings and emotions, that we call human-like, that can be found in animals. As a long time vegan, I find it absurd at times that such horrific things have to happen for humans to realize that animals are living beings that experience complex emotions.
And then, I want to ask: so what? What are the conclusions of us witnessing this drama? Will we change our day to day habits because we now understand that killer whales, for example, mourn for their lost babies for days, similar to humans? I haven’t read a single article saying that the conclusion is that these and other animals have complex feelings–and that maybe we should abstain from eating animals.
Another shortcoming of this story is the emphasis on the fact that these whales, for example, are threatened to be extinct. I have heard many experts say this and remind us of it. However, what I have not heard is a solution. I have not heard an attempt to take collective responsibility for this.
The reason why these whales are dying and are having issues raising healthy newborns is because they lack food. They lack food because these particular subspecies of orcas feed on salmon. We humans are obsessed with the “health benefits” of salmon–and another large fish, the tuna–and have collectively decided to overfish all oceans and make sure we get the last drop of Omega-3 fatty acids so our hair is shinier.
And guess what? If we eat all the tuna and salmon, then there is none for the whales. And then we will continue seeing baby orcas die right after birth because they are malnourished and because they and their mothers can’t find any food anymore. So how about we just abstain from eating their food overall and get our Omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts instead? It’s totally possible to live healthily without salmon. We actually don’t need any of it in our diet.
It’s painful to think that a traumatic event like this one, that gets so much media attention, does not come with a general wakeup call, a guideline with action steps for all of us to think about how we can prevent this from happening. We look at it and feel sad and then we move on with our lives. We fall short of finding collective solutions and taking individual responsibility for this. This is called bystander apathy–the more people watch, the less likely anyone takes action and sadly, the media and press have not taken this opportunity to empower us with tools so these kinds of things won’t happen again.
Get more like this–Subscribe to our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!