Dedicated to Diz Glitheroe (EYES Project) and Geoff Green (Students on Ice), who first gave voice to this story.
as retold by Skid Crease for LTTA (Learning Through the Arts)
It was the last day of the Students on Ice 2008 expedition to the Antarctic, everyone packed up and ready to begin the journey back to Patagonia and then home. The ship was underway heading north when suddenly a two metre dorsal fin broke the water.
The ship cut the engines as the expedition team watched a large male Orca lead a pod of five smaller Orcas past the ship. Then someone yelled, “Seal!” There, on a small ice floe, lay a seal directly in the Orca’s path! The cameras came out as students and staff prepared to record a quick flash of wild nature.
The large male stopped and circled back and forth in front of the pod, and then turned and headed straight for the seal. The young Orcas stayed back, as the male swam towards the floe and then began to circle it. With his large dorsal fin out of the water, the rapid circling of the flow created a vortex of water that soon swept the seal off the floe and into the open ocean. Cameras ready!
But when the Orca emerged from the water, the seal was not in his mouth. Instead, he carried the seal on his head and swam back to the floe and gently deposited the seal back on the ice. He repeated this two more times, and the cameras were poised each time to record the meal. However, the large male swam back to the pod, circled back and forth around them several times and then moved behind them.
The young Orcas then swam towards the floe, and in turn each repeated the vortex wave that swept the seal off the ice floe. Each time the passengers on board were prepared to record the kill. Each time, the young Orcas returned the seal to the ice. One student on board commented that the seal at this point was probably thinking, “OK, just get it over with.” But after each young Orca had done exactly as the big male had done, they swam back to him. He circled around them, and then they all swam away, fading into the Antarctic vastness.
The seal sat on the ice floe, possibly as open jawed as the people on the ship. One Antarctic biologist, who had been studying these ecosystems for twenty-five years, confessed that he had never in his life seen anything like this. For every person on deck watching was the sudden and life changing realization that other species teach, and teach with respect for the food that sustains their lives.
Lesson done, the Orcas moved out into vast interconnected network of the oceans, the seal left to live and breed, life honoured, their lives unchanged. But the passengers on that ship returned home completely changed, perhaps with a voice that would say, “We are not alone.” And like that Apollo 1968 Christmas Eve photo of the Earthrise, perhaps that will be the greatest gift of all.
Skid Crease, Caledon