Recap, Reflections and Now What?
Orca Project 1982-2010 Overview
Dr. Randall Eaton
began studying orca whales in Puget Sound in 1976
when he served on the faculties of zoology,
psychology, wildlife and fisheries at the University
of Washington. In 1978 he founded the Orca Society
for the Study and Conservation of Marine Mammals,
based at U.W., and soon attracted 15,000 members who
received the full color, popular science magazine
Orca: Marine Mammals and Humans, which was widely
acclaimed. In 1979, Eaton funded two field research
stations in Puget Sound which trained student
interns from Evergreen State College, Western
Washington University and Skagit Valley College. The
students conducted field work in Puget Sound and in
the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia. In l980,
Eaton co-organized the International Whaling
Commission’s pivotal conference at Smithsonian which
contributed to a global moratorium on whaling.
In l982, Eaton
launched the Orca Project as a
volunteer field research program. In l985, ten volunteers
and Dr. Eaton befriended wild orcas in B.C., and event
heralded in over
250 newspapers In North America. Over 2,000 students and
people of all ages from many walks
of life from around the globe have volunteered to assist Dr.
Eaton's work, ranging from behavioral observations to
documentation of coastal
native cultures' knowledge of orcas and TV production. Volunteers join
in the field to assist the project. The fees they pay support
the costs of the project including equipment and supplies.
Volunteers receive instruction from
Eaton and visiting instructors including native elders..
They learn about orca behavior and natural history first
and there are campfire seminars and exercises conducted on
animals as teachers, interspecies communication, indigenous
environmental ethics and nature connection. There is time
for singing, making music and story-telling. Volunteers also
fish, kayak, snorkel or scuba dive during their visit. Most
return from their wilderness experience refreshed, inspired
and transformed, and nearly all become ambassadors
for the Orca Nation.
Orca Project 2010
Orca Project 2010 attracted stellar volunteers who connected
with Orcas island, the orcas and one another. Waves of
wonderful people kept coming week after week, each with its
own challenges, lessons and gifts.
A 34-Year Odyssey
In 1966 I saw Namu at the Seattle Aquarium, but it was not until
April of ’76 on San Juan Island that I began to actively study
They were the last two orcas captured in Puget Sound. I spent a
month with them at Kanaka Bay before they were released and
successfully evaded the scientists who wanted to radio-track and
follow them. Those two orcas it turns out were transients, and they
showed me a lot, enough to change my world.
After 20 seasons with the orcas I wrote a book about them and made
an award-winning TV broadcast, entitled, “Orca: The Sacred
Whale.” It was then I began a search for how civilized humanity could
recover a sacred connection with nature and life still found among
indigenous cultures, human and cetacean.
Taking people into the wilderness on the Orca Project had taught me
much about what we are missing. I learned there the power of
a stage in the wilderness for people to connect with the place, its
creatures and the other humans in the circle. I observed how quickly
of strangers became functioning stone age bands. People were eager to
join in community ritual and express gratitude for the orcas and
eagles and our food including the salmon we caught and blessed.
I observed volunteers spontaneously helping one another work for the
common good. All of us shared the joy of laughter, story-telling and
campfire in orcaland.
With their supremely stable, caring
societies, peaceful nature and sustainable lifestyle the
orcas exemplified much of what we are missing
The orcas had propelled me on a hero’s
journey and the awareness that what we are missing is connection in
every stage of our development:
bonding between mother and
infant; bonding of children with family and society; children
bonding with nature; rites of passage that deeply bond adolescents
to nature, especially to become men of heart.
There is a global social/environmental crisis because ego has become
chairman of the psychic board. What we are missing is the
intelligence of the heart.
For a number of years I studied,
wrote, lectured and learned from native societies
about the special role that direct participation
in the food chain
plays in developing a sacred connection to life. I actively promoted
male rites of passage including wilderness survival;
hunting; vision quest; and, art.
Though my son Drake and I were with the orcas and 125 volunteers in
B.C. in 2003, 2010 was my first year with orcas
in Puget Sound
since 1995. I came back because they’re in trouble, and the best way
to help them is to communicate the intelligence, wisdom and
intention of these beings. That was the vision that hatched Orca
Of Tight Ropes and Jump Ropes
Like I said, every group is different. The first group, for example,
had a number of go getters who mixed well and had continual fun.
But after three days on the water without seeing orcas, tension was
mounting. Around the campfire we called a circle and asked
the question, “If you left without seeing orcas what good would you
have to share about your experience here?” When we went around
the circle everyone realized that their anxiety about not
experiencing orcas was standing in the way of being present and
The next day they all saw orcas. The lesson was learned.
After they left I wrote these words,
“The path of prowess is a tightrope.
The path of the heart is a jump rope!”
By “prowess” I mean ego: sooner or later everyone falls off
The worst thing about jump rope is that you miss a step. The only
thing that falls is the rope.
Changes in Orcaland
Everybody saw orcas this summer and every summer we’ve done the
project, but things look different to me out there after
15 years away from the San Juans. Two jolts I experienced were that
the orcas have much less interest interacting with people, and
I suspect that comes down to working harder just to survive. Fewer
salmon? For the first time ever I felt that the orcas are depressed
in orcaland. In the intervening years the resident
population of orcas had been classified as endangered, and
pollutants in the
watershed were killing newborn orcas, possibly
shortening the lives of the bulls.
Our forthcoming documentary will focus on “Orca Spell,” the
wonderful interactions and connections among orcas and humans
in the great Salish Sea. But it also will invite viewers to support
the efforts of estuarine recovery as we witnessed on Bob Connor’s
place by our camp where oyster mushrooms have been planted to “eat”
pollutants in the watershed.
Orcas are like humans. Both are dominant predators in their world,
and now humans dominate orcas, too. As the top-level species in the
oceans, they are an “indicator species” which echoes and reflects
the health and vitality of the food chain below. Stressed as
they are by
extreme toxicity the last thing the orcas need is a dwindling food
supply. Opening the human heart to the “Mind in the Waters” is
the mission, and owing to circumstances of the sea, it naturally
follows that pointing towards positive action is essential for them,
us and for the oceans.
Because life is transcendent
interdependence with our circumstances we are morally compelled to
of our environment as much as ourselves. But the starting point is in
the human heart, the purpose of producing “Orca Spell.”
Infusing the Human/Whale Connection into the Cultural
Dr. Jim Boggs and his lovely wife, Fiona, taught us much about
defining our mission so that it becomes “a part of the cultural
conversation," meaning are people talking about it? We are building bridges
of communication; we aim to add to the conversation that there
are highly intelligent lifeforms living in the seas. That maybe we
should listen, observe and relate to them as we would benevolent
We wonder if it may be possible to work with the cetaceans to “serve
life,” as Kristi Dranginis commented from her Mayan shaman-
teacher, Martin Prechtel.
To serve life. Of course.
Prechtel’s book, Secrets of the
Talking Jaguar, is truly a gem from every angle. It reveals exactly
we are missing in our life: connection.
LaFountaine, singer extraordinaire and weaver of the dream catcher
still hanging above
the altar by the campfire, said,
“Everything wants to connect.”
Highlights of Orca Camp
Phil made the gorgeous fire pit. Bob Connor
on whose property
we camped above
the beleaguered estuary has invested much for years to recover Cayou
Valley as a viable
salmon run. Ken Brown, who may be the funniest man alive, keeps
planting more oyster
mushrooms in the watershed that will absorb
toxic chemicals. The
site may become a
premier showcase for estuarine recovery in Puget Sound without which
there is little
recovery of salmon and perpetuation of the resident orca
The Orca Project salutes Bob Connor, Ken Brown, Doug Myers
Sound and everyone who is working together to recover not only
salmon but a cleaner
and more productive
Puget Sound. Thank you for sharing your vision
with us. We pray that Orca Project 2010 demonstrated the suitability
of a learning center
on Bob’s land overlooking the estuary.
Below is an excerpt of a letter I sent to Doug Myers and others
the future of
orcas in Puget Sound.
Slam Dunk for Orcas, Salmon and Puget Sound
The key word for the future of Puget Sound has four letters. You
guessed it, orca. On my return trip by car to Ohio I stopped
see Craig Thompson in WY with whom I once taught and who is chairman
of the board of the National Wildlife Federation. I
to him over the phone that if you want to recover salmon and clean
up Puget Sound then you point to the orca. It is after all the
totem of Puget Sound which I call “orcaland.” It has to be the most
popular lifeform in that region, and by some measures orcas in
captivity are the leading attraction on earth – quite a Cinderella
story considering the State paid $50 bounty for an orca until Namu showed
at the Seattle waterfront in l965.
I said to Craig that it comes down to education, but “to educate”
actually means “to draw
of.” The way we draw people
out is the art of communication. What moves people is what opens their
It helps to know something about the beauty, intelligence, grace and
power of orcas, and their unique and admirable relationship
with humans for millennia. That is the mission of Orca
Project 2010 on Orcas Island; now we start post production on “Orca
which has stories ranging from what seem to be undeniable telepathy
between orcas and humans to Rosie Cayou of the Samish Nation
recounting that when her great uncle capsized a canoe at sea a bull orca brought him safely to shore and spit him
there. Thus arose his lifelong nickname, “Fishpuke.”
It helps to keep in mind that orcas are the only dominant predator
on earth – lion, wolf, human and orca – that does not war with its
kind. It helps to know they are giant dolphins, rulers of their
world, and though smaller females govern orca societies, the most
known among mammals. Their history of relationship with native peoples goes off
the scale: many of the northwest coastal cultures say that orcas
never attacked them until they attacked the orcas. Then the orcas
attacked back but only the culprits who had attacked them. And
they have had peace ever since. Not the same as the bear, lion,
leopard or tiger story. It helps to know that the people who admire,
respect and revere the orca most are the people who know them best
and for much longer than us.
When I was in East Sound at Susie’s barber
shop she asked me how the summer went and I told her we got a lot of
great material but that the orcas are in trouble, big trouble.
I went on to say to the three women present, “The first-born calves
are dying because their mother’s milk is toxic.” A shudder moved
the room and women lowered and shook their heads muttering, “That’s
awful." Yes it is awful. If you want to get people behind
your important work then be wise: publicize the plight of the orca,
“Mothers’ toxic milk kills baby orcas.” Open hearts and draw the
people out to serve life.
Our production will praise People
for Puget Sound and its estuarine recovery projects including Bob
Your and Ken Brown’s interviews were first-class. We plan to edit
these and other stories like Rosie’s, and put them on You Tube.
We also are bringing out an online magazine about cetacean/human
connection and it too will point to action like helping PPS save the
orcas. Be wise and utilize the power of the orca. It will
serve you well. We will help your cause in any way possible.
Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.
Director, Orca Project
Special Thanks to Earth Mamas
There were a few volunteers in camp who would have made exemplary
ranch moms. Like Robin Hough of northern CA who stood there
night after night cooking for thirteen people while giving
directions to everyone else and holding a half-dozen conversations
Or Louise Dechert who always looked like an Italian model, even went
she went swimming at sea behind Albert Zeman’s sailboat. Kristi
Dranginis, the team photographer, treated many of us to
delicious meals for several weeks.
Rhonda LeFountaine and Sara Bogard led sacred circles with native
songs, and for two sessions we were joined, inspired and entertained
by co-instructor Randy Russell who is a master of rites of passage.
Contact him at:
Talamanca Dolphin Foundation
Ann DiBernardinis and her husband visited orca camp in September. In
the l990s they happened to take a fishing trip to southeast
Costa Rica and fell in love with it and its dolphins which include a
fresh water species previously unknown to exist there as
well as bottlenose dolphins in the sea. These species not only
interact, it appears that they have developed a third language to
communicate with one another. Together they developed
dolphin-watching and tarpon sport fishing which has elevated the
the village and endeared the local people to the dolphins. See the
story in the inaugural issue of The Dolphin and Whale Magazine.
Joseph Bettis Helps Orca Project, Prioritizes Orca Needs
Ann was our guest on an orca-viewing voyage aboard the 64’ vessel,
Orina, owned by Joseph Bettis of Deer Harbor, WA. A retired
professor of world religions, Joseph was instrumental in
getting Springer, a young male orca, from southern Puget
Sound back to his pod in B.C. Nobody has a clue as to how
Springer became separated from his pod. Joseph is a fine
writer who has agreed to tell his Springer story in our new
magazine. Thanks Joseph! Visit
Volunteer/tutor Liz Fox of Oregon City also interviewed
Joseph about the real danger to orcas in the Sound. He expressed his opinion that
boat noise and
are the least of the orcas’ problems, that pollution that
poisons them and
shortage of food are significant survival factors. Orca biologist
Ken Balcomb might agree
since, in Bob Otis’ recent DVD, “Humans of the Sea,” Ken stated that
experience for years
with the resident orcas suggests to him that
they not only do not
avoid his boat or its noise, but if anything are attracted to it.
believes they know
boats and recognize the people in them. Which also has been my
experience and that of
Dr. Paul Spong. Is accelerating regulation of whale-watching a “feel good”
passed by politicians to make it
look like they are doing something good and important? This and
other issues are discussed and debated in The Dolphin and Whale
Magazine, second issue.
To all the volunteers and guests of Orca Project 2010.
To Bob and Meg Connor for the campsite and water.
To Bob, Ken Brown, Doug Myers and People for Puget Sound for their
leadership in recovering salmon and estuaries.
To Alex Callen for his considerable labor.
To Drake Eaton for running a boat safely and well. Good luck in your
but your arms will never be as huge as your father’s.
To Albert Zeman, my original partner in the Orca Project as a
volunteer organization, for teaching peace and for taking out
volunteers on his sailboat.
To Randy Russell for his wisdom, wit, humor and song.
To Kristi Dranginis for her spectacular photography.
To The Dan and The Ben for entertainment.
To Denise and Dan Wilk and the naturalist staff of Eclipse Charters
for superb interviews.
To Fiona Clark and Jim Boggs for advise about communication.
To Chris “The Flynn” of Alaska who flew
down to help us collect footage and
To Star Dewar for use of her excellent photos of Orca Project in ’94
To Ann and Jim DiBerardinis for their wonderful work in southeast
To Rhonda for her lovely songs and dream catcher.
To Kate for her hospitality and good heart.
To Walter and Rachel Henderson for being dear friends.
To Gabriel the sacred hunter.
To Vince for his brilliance and his trailer.
To Rosie, Bill and the Samish Nation.
To Jon Young and WAS for announcing Orca Project 2010.
To the orcas of the Salish Sea: may they prosper.
To the otters of Deer Harbor.
To Mother Earth and Creator are we ever thankful.
Please help us to