Timberline Secondary students are part of plans to shoot killer whales with a camera instead of a 50-calibre machine gun.
On Saturday members of the Timberline Outdoor Club and teacher Steve Joyce set out in choppy waters to Seymour Narrows northwest of Campbell River to locate a machine gun installation that was designed in 1960 to shoot killer whales because people of the day thought they were eating too many salmon.
The group had already made one futile attempt to find the location from land, but the access was too overgrown.
The plan, formulated by Chris Porter, founder of Orca Rescue Conservancy Association and former head trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, is to use the machine gun site as a base for an observatory that would broadcast images of the underwater environment to computers around the world and to a specially designed wall in a shopping mall in Victoria.
With the help of former Campbell River Mayor Roger McDonell (now owner of Stubbs Island Charters) who donated the boat, the group finally found the site.
From the rock bluff a machine gunner could cover the entire width of Seymour Narrows.
The plan was to deter or kill as many killer whales as possible, especially those coming south towards Campbell River. Fortunately saner heads prevailed and the gun was never fired, but not out of concern for the orcas. People were worried that bullets would ricochet off the water and possibly injure or kill someone, or cause a forest fire.
Porter was the former trainer of Tilikum, the captive orca who killed three people during his 30-year stint at the Vancouver Aquarium. Porter had come to Campbell River last year to present the film Blackfish (a story about Tilikum) at the Tidemark Theatre and also at Timberline for the outdoor club. He was impressed with the students and that, plus his relationship with Tilikum, is one of the reasons he wants to do the project. “My connection with Tilikum makes me want to do more for him,” said Porter. “An attempt to make up for some of the wrongs I committed on behalf of his sacrifice.
” i started working for Sealand in Oak Bay at age 19 and began my career training killer whales. My relationship with Tilikum made me question the effectiveness of aquariums.” Porter has always been fascinated by the story of the machine gun at Seymour Narrows. So he asked the students and staff of the Timberline Outdoor Club for their help in finding its location. “It has to be a good place to see killer whales,” he said. “So let’s build a whale watching centre or land-based observation site and memorial so we are not paying $50 a person to go see them in an aquarium.”
Porter has worked as a consultant for Italy’s National Aquarium, Aquarium of Genoa, prior to his work in the Solomon Islands with dolphins.
During 2005 he created the world’s first open ocean dive program with sea lions in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles. Next Porter will be looking into the feasibility of using the site to bring the world that much closer to the amazing marine environment that surrounds Campbell River.
The Timberline students have enthusiastically embraced this idea, and will be meeting with Porter again to carry on with the plan.
“The irony of such a use is fitting today as our world view on marine mammals, the environment and the orca in particular has moved 180 degrees,” said Joyce. And Porter says that giving back to the environment is of the upmost importance.
“The problem is, that entertainment on the sacrifice of the animals is not fair if there are no direct conservation benefits in the wild,” he said. “The decline of killer whales off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State are a prime example of that.”
Students Ashley Riley, Vienna Hyatt, Garner Lavoie and Neala Cameron were led on the successful journey by Joyce, retired Timberline principal Kevin Harrison, film maker Brad Quenville, Porter and McDonell.
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