One of the most amazing things about orcas is that they live in pods also known as families. The resident whales of Canada are known to stick by their family for as long as they live, only leaving the pod for a short time while mating. The pod is led by the oldest female of the family also called Matriarch. New born calves and young orcas will remain in the middle of the pod, the safest place for them to be, while the older males (bulls) will swim on the outer side.
The orcas have a tight bond with their families but will also every now and then socialize with other pods related to them. These meetings can sometimes expend to several pods and form a so-called “super pod”. During these meetings the male and females will usually separate to be with the same sex orcas of the other pods. Much like humans, the men will go off and “fool around” while the women will get into chit chat.
Orca men are real momma’s boys and will stick with her until she dies. The next female in line will then take over and the bulls will be loyal to her and her offspring. The family helps each other with all they do. From catching food to helping give birth to the newest member of the family. Killer whales are extremely social.
But what if the next orca in line is a male?
While orcas are much beloved by humans all over the world these days, they weren’t always this popular. Fishermen wanted them dead, the army used them for target practice and some people feared them so much they would try to kill them on sight. This sounds like ancient times but this happened not so long ago in Canada. Due to this, a lot of orcas were killed and pods got close to vanishing completely. Some orcas still alive today wear the scars of attacks by humans. Also, the captivity industry took many calves to put on display in marine parks. During these captures other pod members were killed. A few of these captured orcas still remain in these parks on this day.
The residents in Canada are still recovering from this brutality brought on them by mankind and it will take many more years before they can be considered “out of danger”. These days they are considered an endangered species although some of the fishermen still would rather see them die out because of them stealing “their” fish.
A well-known pod is the A36 Matriline. A36 was a female orca named “Sophia”. She was the daughter of “Stubbs” who died in 1974. Due to the lack of females in this pod researches were aware of the fact that this pod would at some point stop to exist. Sophia gave birth to 3 bulls named Cracroft (A32), Plumper (A37) and Kaikash (A46) and one female (A44) which died at the age of 2 years old. When Sophia died in 1997 the 3 brothers were left without a matriarch in their pod. Scientists were observing closely what would become of the pod now they had no female to take over leadership. Surprisingly the brothers would not leave each other but in fact chose to stick together.
While they did socialize with other pods they encountered they never stayed with other orcas. The brothers or “The Boys” as they were also called by some, were alone together. They became local celebrities and many felt warm hearted for the brothers who were the last of their line.
Cracroft was the oldest of the brothers. Believed to be born in 1964 he was one of the oldest males among the Northern Residents. His dorsal fin was rounded instead of the usual pointy shape and so was easy to recognize for scientist and whale watchers. Cracroft died in 2010 leaving his two brothers as well as a son with another pod (Skuna I42) behind.
The second oldest of the brothers was Plumper. He was born in 1977 and just like his two siblings popular among whale watchers. While his older brother Cracroft would sometimes take off on his own for a short period of time, Plumper always stayed close to his youngest brother Kaikash.
During the summer of 2014 Plumper was spotted and looked starvedand in bad condition. When I was in Canada in August 2014 I was told Plumper had not been seen for a while and had probably died. During my time at Johnstone Strait Kaikash did pass by several times on his own.Kaikash is the last remaining orca of the 3 brothers. Born in 1982 the bull will now have to survive on his own. This is difficult for a social animal like the killer whale as they do seem to need the companionship of others.
A good example for this is an orca named “Springer” who got separated from her pod, was captured and after being released joined the brothers briefly for some social interaction. During the time Springer was with them the brothers would let her swim in the center of them as if she was the Matriarch.
One incident with a Dall’s porpoise in 2004 raised a lot of eyebrows as the brothers chased and charged the much smaller animal several times. Northern Residents do not kill and eat other mammals but live from a diet of fish. The porpoise in the end got away safely and unhurt but one can expect it not getting to close to killer whales anymore.