Former Washington State Secretary, Ralph Munro photo by Susan Berta
1956 – 1998 Story by Susan Berta
August 23, 1999
It was a beautiful day in the San Juan Islands. The sun that had been eluding us all summer shone brightly - the orcas, who hadn't been around for a few days, were traveling north up the west side of San Juan Island, arriving at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse precisely at 1:30 p.m.
This was also the time and place Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro had scheduled a Press Conference to say goodbye to J6, who had been named Ralph in honor of the work Ralph Munro had done for the Southern Resident orcas. J6 was one of seven Southern Resident orcas who were last seen in 1998, the beginning of a sudden and steep decline in their population, which continued for several years and resulted in the Southern Resident orcas being listed as endangered.
Ralph and his former wife Karen held the press conference to help bring awareness and attention to the alarming number of Southern Resident orca deaths taking place, and especially to pay tribute to J6/Ralph, the orca they had such a special connection with, a loss felt deeply by them and by so many of us.
Ralph began his talk by describing the day he and Karen were out in their sailboat and met J6 and his family, and just as he began talking, all three pods went frolicking by, right behind Ralph as he spoke. He joked about the whales showing up precisely at 1:30 pm, not before, not after—right on time for the press conference. And just as Ralph began talking about the special connection J6 and his pod made with he and Karen that day in Puget Sound, an orca breached right behind him! We all gasped, and Ralph turned around to see the big splash. Then he started to speak again, and once more, another breach! As Ralph tried to continue with his story of meeting J6 and his family, he kept getting interrupted by this one orca, with no less than SIX full breaches exploding right behind Ralph as he spoke of his strong connection with the whales, and J6 in particular, and what a great loss it was to lose J6 and the other whales who did not return that year. Then it was confirmed that the whale who breached those six times, just as Ralph was talking about J6, was identified as J8, J6's sister.
After the speech, Ralph and Karen tossed a wreath into the water to honor the passing of their beloved J6, and the other whales we lost that year, and laid roses on the rocks in their memory. Ralph and Karen's connection with the whales was clearly obvious to everyone there who witnessed that magical moment that was just too perfect and precise to be a mere coincidence. Magic, maybe, but not coincidence.