British Columbia

4 ways Moby Doll changed how we think about orcas

We have come to love, not hunt nor fear, the 'killer whales' we once called 'blackfish,' says Richard Blagborne.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the capture of the first orca displayed in B.C.

July 16, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the capture of Moby Doll, the first orca ever caught in B.C. for display.

In 1964, the Vancouver Aquarium had wanted to kill what was viewed as a vicious predator to study its brain and use its body as a model for a large sculpture.

But after their harpoon hit the animal and it didn't die, the crew had a change of heart and brought Moby Doll to shore. The orca lived in a pen at Jericho Beach for three months before he died.

Richard Blagborne helped create the Saturna Island Heritage Centre where the skull of Moby Doll is on display.

He spoke to Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's The Early Edition about how he believes Moby Doll changed the way we think about orcas forever:

1. We no longer see them as monsters 

A CBC broadcast from 1964 referred to Moby Doll as a "dangerous monster."

"You can tell from the tone of [the CBC broadcast], this 'five-tonne killer monster' was the prevailing attitude at that time," says Blagborne, "There was very little understanding of what orcas really were all about."

2. We don't hunt whales in B.C.

"There were over 880 whales commercially harvested that year, so British Columbians were still looking at them as a resource," he says. "Killer whales … they called them blackfish."

3. We came to love them

"Even the guy who fired the gun, Sam Burich, he ended up sitting on a raft, playing his harmonica to Moby," Blagborne says.

4. We don't believe there are thousands of them

"They thought there were thousands of [orcas], and that they were going to deplete all the fish," he says. "The young fellow who helped Dr. McGeer do the autopsy [of Moby Doll] went on to become the biology graduate who went to work for Fisheries to actually find out how many there were."

"That was Michael Bigg, and his remarkable work proved in a short [amount] of time, using his photographic identity system, that there weren't thousands of them. In fact, there were only about 300 on the coast."


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