Whales and Captivity

I live – more or less – in Vancouver BC, Canada.

I spent many family outings at Stanley Park which at one time, included a train ride around a variety of wildlife enclosures – wolves, flamingos – and a zoo with monkeys and a reptile house and the Vancouver Aquarium.

In 1964, Vancouver British Columbia was the first city to have a captive living Orca.

Before 1965 – the name Killer Whale was said with fear – we did not understand the creatures of the sea – and frankly, we don’t really understand them any better than we did then.

Now – this is the APPALLING story behind Moby Doll:

A man was commissioned to do a life size sculture of a Killer Whale or as they are more properly referred to – an Orca Whale – the largest dolphins in the ocean.

Now – not having any photographs to reference, it was decided to hunt one and bring it back – and they went out and harpooned an Orca and dragged it back – I imagine it was very Hemmingwayesque – and they brought the Orca into the Vancouver Harbour – where – it was not immediately killed.

Because – that killer whale – was not what people expected – it was friendly, playful even – and the City of Vancouver – fell in love and they named that first captured Orca – Moby Doll.

You see, they thought it must be a female to be so friendly – and they made a makeshift pen in the harbour and Mody Doll delighted Vancouver for about 87 days.

Then Moby Doll died.

It was clear over those days that something was wrong – the fin of the whale – developed a droop and it became listeless and less interactive.

An autopsy – because – really – what’s the difference in dissecting a human vs any other animal to uncover the cause of death or learn about the inner workings of the bio-mechancial functions? None to my mind, other than trying to use a name to avoid the emotional attachment and – more precisely – the emotional aspect, which connects to the moral and ethical processes – ’nuff said.

It turned out that the salinity of the harbour waters played a factor – but – really – if they hadn’t harpooned that whale as a visual reference for a sculpture – it’s most likely that we would never have captured whales and imprisoned them in tiny bodies of water – in concrete – where these sonar creatures –

must be driven mad with the constant echoing of only themselves instead of being able to send and recieve messages from anywhere in the ocean.

To a whale, human captivity, must be like – solitary confinement – trapped in a tiny body of water, your existence controlled by strange creatures how do not know or do not have the capacity for sonar.

To all those LABCOATS, just like that scientist in the video – you can’t classify whale songs when you only are able to record a tiny part of the total sounds that whale can make and hear – human hearing and human comprehension – is so limited – that – well, the data that we can capture – it’s like looking that the ice above the water and thinking that you understand what iceberg means.

I am going to share with you, DEAREST READERS, two entirely separate conversations that I have had – and they weigh very heavily on my mind:

1 St Story: I was in high school or college at the time, I don’t remember clearly.

NINA: I just don’t understand why people think that you can test for Extra Sensory Perception by selecting cards from a deck or by predicting what pattern may come up in a set.

DAD: You can’t, the human brain is too small and there’s nothing to suggest that it is capable of sending or receiving data outside of the 5 senses and predicting things, well, people reveal more than they realize, if you know how to pay attention.

NINA: But, what about …..

DAD: Look, there are many things that cannot be explained, Horatio. Besides, I didn’t say that there was no ESP, just that the human brain is too small and people are too self involved to pay attention to anything that doesn’t have to do with themselves. Now, to my mind, Whales, they have huge brains and they have large bodies to support those brains and they are not restricted by gravity like humans. Whales use sonar, their brains are so much more sophisticated than human brains, so if any species really does or can have ESP, it would be whales, not humans.

2nd Story: I was in my 30’s and talking to a woman who was the project leader of a project that I was working on for Women in Film. It was before I was on the board, I was just a volunteer, helping out.

WOMAN: Whales? Well, I do not tell people this, but I used to volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium, I observed one of Bjossa’s babies, I was really good at capturing all the details about the feeding and body functions, so I spent a lot of time by the water near the whales. Everyone who works with whales, knows this, but, we don’t tell people who don’t, because no one believes us – it’s something you have to experience to understand. And the only way that I can explain is that I think the whales have ESP……

Now, I have a third story to share – about an event that I went to when I was a teenager as a member of a family that was active in the Icelandic Canadian Club of British Columbia.

One year – I was in late high school or early college – I can’t remember, but I know that I had a camera and I am pretty sure that it was the SLR Pentax that I got for high school graduation, but I also remember that I was coerced into wearing a dress to the reception that the Club was holding on behalf of a very special guest for the evening: her name is Vigdis Finnbogadottir.

Now, I just found a brief biography of her- she was elected President of Iceland in 1984 and 1988. So that helps me with my little memory problem – this story was in the late 1980’s, I was in college and Iceland had recently donated Bjossa and Finna – two Icelandic Orca whales – to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Moby Doll at least – being kept in the harbour – could still communicate with his pod and the whales of his region. Bjossa and Finna were from a whole other ocean.

And the BC Icelandic Club hosted a reception at the Vancouver Aquarium, for the then President of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir.

Now – I got to meet the President at several events during her Canadian Visit – and I was in university, not college – wow – it seems that my memories are coming back – trauma is a terrible thing – because – you lose yourself, you forget who you are and who your people are – but luckiliy, I have a good village family and I have chosen family – to fall back on, to draw strength from – strength of character and strength of purpose.

I understand why most people do not recover from traumas, and it’s because, they have experienced so much trauma over their lives, that they have no resources to fall back on. And when the first traumas you experience are in childhood, then it becomes that much harder as an adult to cope with trauma. Like Workplace Bullying…..’nuff said.

You see, at university, I was involved in two student groups: The Student Newspaper and The Student Radio Station.

So at my first opportunity, I walked right up to President Vigdis Finnbogadottir and introduced myself. Because my family was a member of the club, I was not intercepted by the President Press Secretary and I was not treated as a member of the media. I also had my camera:

Now, those photos are from the first event – the reception, where I had this conversation with the President of Iceland – right after I teased a man who was standing in the corner, in an overcoat, with a tiny coil wire running up his neck from underneath the collar of his coat and into a small ear piece.

NINA to man in black: C’mon, CSIS, This is Canada, who is going to attack the president of Iceland?

MAN IN BLACK: Ma’am, please return to the reception. You are blocking my view of the room.

Nina leaves the corner of the room and makes a beeline for THE PRESIDENT.

Yes, I am, just THAT kind of girl.

NINA: Welcome to Canada, Madam President.

I need to explain something, in Iceland, you are your first name and your last name just identifies who your people are. SO:

VIGDIS: Thank you, it’s good to travel. You are?

NINA: I’m Nina and my family is a member of the club and I am a university student.

VIGDIS: Oh? What are you studying?

NINA: General Arts, I am trying to get into the Film Program.

(clue: if you read her linked to biography, you will know why that was interesting to the President)

VIGDIS: So, what are you doing while waiting?

NINA: I am glad you asked, I write for the university’s student paper and I also do a show on the Student Radio Station.

PRESS SECRETARY notices my Pentax SLR camera and she moves in closer, she is starting to look nervous.

Vigdis, smiles at me, and you can see from that photo collage – just how self controlled and dignified that she is – a lot like Greta Garbo’s Glacial Persona.

The Press Secretary notices and she stands down and moves back, just a little bit.

NINA: So, I was wondering, if I could ask you just one question, and it’s for the radio station.

Vigdis smiles and nods.

and I wish that mere words could convey – everything – that I experienced in that moment – I mean, here I was 19 years old – I had just teased a CSIS agent, strolled up to the first woman ever elected as President in a secular democratic nation – and I mean – SHE was elected as President – indivually – not because she was a political party leader – and WHEN she was president – she supported the Iceland Women’s social uprising to demand fair wages – one day – in Iceland – every single woman – did not attend work nor did they do any work in the home – they all – as a group – refused to do any work without equitable pay – and their action:

Shut.thenation.down.Ground it to a complete standstill. Halt, Full Stop.

Suffragette style – means making others see the suffering that they cause in the world. By simply not participating in what causes your own misery and suffering.

Now, none of those details are in that linked to biography of Vigdis Finnboadottir – but they were details bout her that I already knew – as a 19 year old woman – who, because of a quirk of family and the community connections of said family – I got to meet the President of The Old Country – which to me, means Iceland – and to anyone else, DEAR READERS, means whatever The Old Country, means to you.

So – remember – I had already teased a CSIS agent, walked up to the President and disarmed her Press Secretary and attracted the attention of the one person in the  whole room that every single person was there to see:

VIGDIS FINNBOGADOTTIR – and she – of all the people in the room – had smiled at just me – and was interested in NINA – because well, if you’ve ever met me – or just watched this video:

You will have an idea – of just how well – I know – how to work a room or work an audience – but, unless you meet me in person – you can’t know – what is it like – for anyone – and I mean anyone – from Presidents, Politicians to everyday people – just like – me and DEAREST READERS, just like you.

You can’t know – just want it feels like – to stand and watch – someone be the focus of my attention – and you can’t know – what it feels like – when I turn my Grey Eyes on you – everyone thinks that because I was blonder and have big boobs, that my eyes are blue. My eyes were never blue – my eyes are grey.

Okay – now – I think I am getting off topic – my mind tends to wander and get lost – a side effect – of being bullied at work – you stop being able to say things directly to people – especially true things – because – well – just because. ’nuff said.

So, let me reset the scene:

Teased CSIS, check.

Stood down Press Secretary, Check.

right here:

The Press Secretary notices and she stands down and moves back, just a little bit.

NINA: So, I was wondering, if I could ask you just one question, and it’s for the radio station.

Vigdis smiles and nods.

There is a small flicker across her face, a side glance to the press secretary when I do not immediately ask my question – the tension in the corner from the CSIS Man in Black – is distracting to me. He never answered my question of whether or not, he had a gun. Which, if you’ve seen this movie….well, I did not ask him about a gun for any of the reasons in that movie so this was around 1988 in Canada, so nuff said.

NINA: it’s a standard question that the Music Director likes to ask all the artists who come and plug their music or perform a show at the university.

Vigdis chuckles, the Press Secretary releases her breath. they can relax, knowing it’s a softball question.

NINA: What do you eat for breakfast?

Vigdis looked at me – in total surprise – finally – a question – from a press person – that no one – had ever asked before.How delightful.

Her answer was very Scandinavian. And I am going to let DEAR READERS, google that yourselves.

Then I thanked the President for her time and I moved away – allowing the CSIS agent to relax and the Press Secretary to chase after me.

You see – Canada was just one stop of the President’s Journey – they had arrived in Canada from India – and the Press Secretrary, her camera was malfunctioning – and she gave me her card and asked me how many of the Vancouver Events would I be attending – just one more – at the Vancouver Aquarium – so she asked me – if she could have copies of all my photographs.

I said yes, and at the end of the week, I met with that Press Secretary and I have her a complete set of all the photos that I took.

And two of my photos – ran on the front page of an Icelandic Newspaper – and one of them was of The President of Iceland with my Mom.

I would like to include that photo – but I have a lot of photos and they are not organized very well, I never had time to really organize my house before. And it is difficult to take care of your home, when your ability to self-manage and self-care is impaired by Post Traumatic Distress Disorder and general anxiety disorder, panic attacks and everything else that people suffer and are burdened by – when they have been bullied in school or in the work place.

But, I do not want to talk about my being bullied – because I am okay – I am safe at home, protected and loved by my family. I know that eventually, I will be able to leave my house and go back to work and be social with people – just like I used to.

I am just not ready yet, I have some cognitive behavioral difficulties and a lot of social anxiety disorder that I have not recovered from – partly because – in Canada, even though we have so called Universal Health Care – the waiting lists are so long that by the time you get to actually see a medical professional who is covered by our tax payer funded Health Care – people in my situation – are often already dead or street involved.

And I am not the kind of girl who waits to be rescued or for help that isn’t forthcoming. I am the kind of girl who solves problems in her own unique way.

Now, I could tell you one more story about the President of Iceland and the Vancouver Aquarium – when I was bored at the reception and my cousin and I left the humans to go watch the whales:

Hyak, Bjossa and Finna – the latter of which, the President was there to see.

Now, I was already outside and I was an attendee at the reception – so when the President stepped outside – her Press Secretary and the Club’s president – prevented any media or people with cameras from going outside.

Now, Vidgis saw me and my cousin – watching the whales and me taking pictures of the whales – and I already had pictures of her with humans – so I took some more pictures – every time she wandered into my camera view.

My cousin and I  – we left the President alone – she looked like she needed a calm moment away from people – so we three : President, Me and my Cousin – only exchanged nods and smiles. And I took photographs.

Now – the next day – the Club’s president phoned me in a blind panic. That Press Secretary had – well, the expression in Canada is : just ripped him a new one.

And that local club president was told – in no uncertain terms – to find out – whether or not, NINA TRYGGVASON was a member of a particular group.

I was not then nor I am now – a member of Greenpeace.

I promised then and I keep my promise now – not to share those Aquarium Photos of the President of Iceland with the two Orcas, Bjossa and Finna – that Iceland has just then and very controversially – donated to the Vancouver Aquarium.

So – I have photographs – that no other person – ever had the opportunity to take – and I promised – not to share them – and I am a woman of my word.

But, I will say – it was evening, I didn’t have my flash and the photos – they didn’t turn out very good – something to do with depth of field contrast in low light – BUT – even if those photos – had in fact – turned out the way I hoped they would – because – remember – this was 1988 – my camera was a PENTAX SLR professional camera – and I was using the natural light of the night sky to reflect on the water and the whales – so I did not use a flash – on any of the outside photos.

I didn’t give the press secretary any of those photos and I didn’t even keep them for myself – most of them, I threw away – and the few that I did keep – I am not sharing, because I promised and I am a woman of my word.

But, that Incident – wherein I avoided causing an international incident – where I chose to not contribute to scandal, where I so respected that PRESIDENT of a free and secular democratic society – which happens to be The Old Country.

Well – now – there’s some text that got disconnected when I went back to edit in a new line and I started writing along that editted in line – and I am going to stop – because I have to do two things today and I just noticed, it’s 11 am.

But here’s the important thought to keep in mind.

I was never a member of Greenpeace – but I was a member of other environomental groups – but I met a teacher in high school – he wasn’t my teacher – he taught my sister – the class he taught was Values and Ethics – and he showed the class movies – regular hollywood movies that he rented from the video stores of the time – and they watched movies and they discussed the values and ethnics – it was not a pop culture class – they were discussing the lack of values and ethics.

So, I got curious about my sister’s teacher and I dropped into his classroom – after school and I talked to him. There were several teachers – that I had a drop-in/discussion relationship with.

And that teacher convinced me: That while the Nuclear Threat Loomed, there were no other causes worth supporting. He introduced me to this guy:

but – I am a multi-tasker – so I am thinking, not of joining Greenpeace – because – I am still agoraphobic and I get really anxious when I leave my house or have to meet new people or have to talk to people who don’t know that I have been bullied and you know what – everyone is bullied – every day – so me being bullied – as extreme a case as it was – I am safe now – surrounded by family – I am protected – it’s not as bad as anyone else who is still being bullied – and everyone is bullied – and most people bully other people – only – worse – they don’t even notice.

Now – a kind word or a neutral word – softly spoken – it can go a long way – you never know – what’s going on in the lives of the people we see on the street, in shops as the customer service representatives or salespeople – and there is a big difference between a customer service rep and a salesperson – and that’s for a blog of another time.

So – I implore – DEAREST READERS – if I can convince you of anything – I want it to be only this:

BE KIND to yourself and BE KIND to all others.

You never know – what kind of a day or life that anyone is having.

So – when in doubt – and there’s always doubt – be kind.

Now, here’s the thing about the word “kind” –

Creationists do not beleive in evolution – they do not understand the complexities of biological classifications: They say “kind” of animal and they do not understand:

There are no “kinds” of life – there is life – categorized – and there is non-life.

HUMANS DO NOT KNOW ALL THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE

and humans can only understand life through personal experience and education – and kindness – to all the living things – on this one planet that we do know – can support life.

And life, is what you make of it – and humans, collectively, are making a mess of this planet. So, I am ending my blogging on this post for today – I have worked my courage up to go and make that video that I promised to post today.

So I have to go – get ready – to make that video. And here’s one last thought for the blog – now – this bit was written as part of some earlier thoughts – but I know – DEAR READERS – you will be able to figure out – where – this bit was originally in my post:

After Moby Doll, Vancouver built the Vancouver Aquarium inside Stanley Park. And that park has played host to several Orca whales and Beluga Whales.

now – if you found the harsh mechanical sounds difficult to cope with on the video – just imagine – those poor sonar whales – in a concrete enclosure in conditioned water – an just imagine – how much worse it is for the far more sound sensitive whales – who hear a wider range of sounds than humans – and who are in concrete and glass bunkers filled with water – and all the sounds of the city and the people – travels through glass and through the water – and the whales – hear and feel everything.

much more than mere humans

Coatless Canadians and the Inside Passage

With our last Alaska port of call completed, the Coatless Canadians turned southward to watch again the super natural beauty of the Inside Passage.

Canada is a country that is uniquely positioned in the world. Being the northerly neighbour of the USA and having a shared history of European migration makes that relationship different than USA and Mexico. The US war of independence and Canada’s diplomatic path to that same end has loomed large in each country’s self image.

Canada has lived torn between it’s European connection and the natural geographical ties to the USA. So growing up in Canada was a little schizophrenic, being inundated with both British and American TV shows and movies and largely being timid to set about an image of our own and when we did establish an international presence, we are far too humble about it.

These thoughts weighed on my mind as I watched the Inside Passage scenery and thought about the 1970’s British Columbia filmed TV Show, The Beachcombers. A comedy about a motley crew who’s major star was nothing short of the British Columbia coastline – the scenery which ensured European sales of the program that kept it on the air longer than it would have been on it’s own merits.

Far too heavy thoughts for a sunny day and watching dolphins – or they might have been porpoises, we never got too good a look:


Farther down the coast, Orca whales made their appearance.

Then, we encountered a pod of orca whales:

His Noodley Goodness makes his presence known, and we give thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the bounty and beauty of the sea.

You can just make out the whale’s exhale on these above and below images.

And then a dramatic detail from the above:

Then it was onto our final port of call: Victoria, British Columbia.

Parliment building after dark



Coatless Canadians in Alaska – Part 1

We were very excited to go on our first cruise but also my first Skeptic Society conference – the science of climate change.

Being in Vancouver, British Columbia – we are very spoiled by the temperate climate – so much so that we focused on the word “cruise” and not the word “Alaska”. We didn’t pack coats, to the entertainment of many of our southern cruise-mates.

Seattle was gorgeous and to our eyes, not different at all from Vancouver. Trees and coffee shops as far as the eye can see.

We didn’t expect to see much sea life – well, we saw a lot of sea gulls – but we didn’t expect to see much in the way of whales so close to human activity – but we did get treated to an orca once we were closer to Vancouver Island.Not much of one, but one nonetheless.

But the draw of a cruise isn’t only the random animals, but the scenery and the British Columbia coast does not disappoint.

In addition to the Skeptics conference, my choice of cruise reading material was:

It added another level to the experience, as AJ Jacobs immersed himself in Biblical literalism and shared the experience and revelations of trying to obey all the rules of the bible, not just the big 10 – I exposed myself to hard science and emergency preparedness and some political challenges of not only climate change – but climate change resistance that is largely down to religion.

What struck me over and over is how religion is not only retarding social change, but acceptance of science and science literacy. I also wonder why religion sets itself against a hard science like biology and evolution which is supported by the spectrum of biology sciences and geology and not a softer one like anthropology.

I think the answer lies in that anthropology, being the study of people, is easier to understand on many levels so people aren’t as intimidated by the complexity, but also because even the laziest of reviewers of history can see that every civilization has had distinct religions that reflect and reinforced the values of the culture and that no two cultures ever came up with the same religion were there wasn’t a migration path connecting them.

Even so, believers in current practiced religions have to deal with the cognitive dissonance that this god(s) didn’t reveal themselves to earlier humans – but I have yet to hear the explanation for the shyness and allowing people to worship other gods for so long before their pet god made an appearance in the literature and as a social movement.

The first day of lectures was Dr. Donald Prothero on “How Glaciers Work and How Climate Changes” and Dr. Bruce Molnia on “The Retreat of the Glaciers.”

Both presented detailed college level presentations and did not disappoint. The obvious lack of science literacy and the current media trend of equating loud opinion with expert opinion in the USA was disconcerting. There simply is no way to comprehend the resistance to that human activity – industrial, commercial, transportation and resource extraction is impacting the earth’s systems – often overwhelmingly.

The data is overwhelming when you understand it – and that’s the problem, the lack of science literacy means people don’t understand the data coupled with a business, political or religious interest to deny the information.

It is not surprising that the people who most deny climate change is connected to human activity are the same people who denied tobacco was harmful, and with much overlap with the groups trying to define creationism/intelligent design as being science and that the groups who are anti-vaccine use many of the same tactics. Which is to claim the science needs more data, that the data is too complex and then to attack the messenger when they can’t deny the message.

Attacking the messenger is the signal that the battle is lost, since the evidence is no longer deniable and smear tactics are all that remains to the losing defender.

Tomorrow: Glacier pictures and the denier encounter!

Yours – the crusading coatless Canadian!