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Lasting Legacies

During Orca Month in 2023, through stories and videos, we'll honor the Lasting Legacies of the Southern Resident orcas and celebrate the legacy of the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

Coming soon!


  • Susan Berta

Former Washington State Secretary, Ralph Munro photo by Susan Berta

J8 Ralph.

1956 – 1998 Story by Susan Berta

Orca Network

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.

J1 Ruffles. The Whale. The Legend. ©CWR

J1 Ruffles. The Whale. The Legend.

1951 – 2010 m

by Cindy Hansen

Orca Network

He was quite likely the most famous and well-known wild orca in the world, next to Keiko. In front of thousands of adoring fans, he would slowly surface and then just as slowly disappear beneath the water again, as if he knew how impressive that wavy dorsal fin was. People from all over the world saw him and loved him, but one admirer in particular remains etched in my memory.

Danny (name changed for privacy) was a special needs man who was a passenger on our whale watch boat at least once a year. He loved us, and he loved Ruffles. Each time he walked on the dock to start the trip, he would embrace all of us in a huge bear hug so strong we would have to hang on to each other to keep from falling in the water. We adored him. And we knew that whenever he was with us, we were going to have a fantastic day with J Pod. Because Danny had a special connection with Ruffles that was difficult to comprehend. I’ll never forget the day we were watching J Pod traveling close to shore off Henry Island. Ruffles left the group and did a complete circle around us. He surfaced four or five times, always right next to Danny, who was laughing gleefully as he followed his whale around the boat. After Ruffles had visited his friend, he returned to Granny and the rest of the pod close to shore, and continued on his way.

My last year working on the boat, the last day I saw Danny, we had a report of the L12s at Salmon Bank while J pod had headed north to the Fraser River the previous day. We had a choice to make – go for the sure thing or take the chance that J Pod would be headed back down Rosario Strait, which they often did in those days. It was an easy decision – Danny was on the boat. We took the chance and of course J Pod was there, as we knew they would be. And as he had done so many times over the years, Ruffles left the group and surfaced right where Danny was standing. It was a wonderful last memory of the strange and beautiful relationship between the two of them. I can’t begin to understand or explain the connection, and maybe I don’t want to. Maybe it’s enough just to know that it existed, and to remember the joy it brought to a friend.

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