Whidbey authors K.S. Robinson and Sandra Pollard may not be two birds of a feather, but they could certainly be called two whales in a pod.
Robinson, a children’s book author and former school teacher and Pollard, non-fiction author and certified marine naturalist, have distinctly different writing styles, but they share a common goal: to preserve and protect the Southern resident orca population that calls the Salish Sea its home.
Both women have recently penned books to benefit these impressive and often-misunderstood animals.
Resident orca whales, unlike transient populations which only feed on marine mammals, feed exclusively on salmon. Due to habitat degradation, over fishing of Chinook salmon and chemical contamination of the waters, resident orca whales have been in peril for some time.
In addition, misconceptions about orcas and other marine species such as dolphins and harbor seals contributed to a large number of the animals being displaced, killed or captured, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
It is this era, as well as the future, with which both Pollard and Robinson are concerned.
Lolita, formerly known as Tokitae, was captured from Penn Cove in 1970. Caring citizens and volunteers are presently working to provide Lolita with what they believe is a well-deserved retirement package — release from captivity and a return to her home in Puget Sound.
Robinson, a volunteer at Langley Whale Center and Freeland resident, is donating the proceeds from her book “A Mermaid’s Tale,” published in May, to the Orca Network’s mission to return Lolita to her natural habitat.
Pollard’s book “Puget Sound Whales for Sale: the fight to end orca hunting,” published in June, discusses the several Puget Sound whale captures and kills of 1964-1976. During this time, 45 Southern resident orcas, or “killer” whales, were captured for display in marine parks. Eleven more of these whales, now the only population listed as an endangered species, were killed. Proceeds from those of her books that are sold through Orca Network and the Langley Whale Center will also go to benefit the Orca Network and Lolita.
Since the beginning, Pollard said, there have been conflicting viewpoints regarding orcas. While Native American populations revered them, European fisherman despised them. In the 1960s, the United States Air Force used them for target practice. Pollard noted that 25 percent of the whales taken into captivity were found to have bullet wounds in their blubber during postmortem examinations.
Despite the many ways in which whales were killed in the past, Pollard said the one she regards as the most terrible was the apparent suicide by drowning of a young whale, Katie, who had been taken into captivity before she had been weaned from her mother. The young whale, according to Pollard, must have simply given up much like the famous dolphin, Flipper, whose death prompted his trainer to leave the profession.
Of the whales taken in the ‘60s and ‘70s from the Penn Cove area, Lolita is the only survivor.
“She must have a very strong will, a very strong spirit,” Pollard said.
She explained that the animals are family oriented and, in the wild, do not separate from their pod. The resident orcas of Puget Sound work together and even share food with one another.
“They are highly intelligent. They can really set an example for the human race,” she said.
Robinson, like Pollard, values the natural treasures of Puget Sound.
As a child, she spent summers at her family’s home on Mutiny Bay, scouring the beach for shells. When her daughters, now ages 23 and 28, were small they too enjoyed time on Whidbey beach combing and sifting through the sand for natural trinkets.
“There are a lot of interesting things you can find if you really pay attention,” said Robinson.
One of these interesting things, for Robinson, is the uniqueness of the resident orca pod.
As a former kindergarten teacher of several years, Robinson is a believer in the importance of early learning as well as the use of imagination.
Although the characters in her book “A Mermaid’s Tale,” are fictitious, the book’s lessons are as real as they are accessible.
For Robinson, the choice to donate proceeds from the story to orca preservation was simple. She said that growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, she witnessed firsthand the various misconceptions about the marine mammals.
“Nobody understood the way [orcas] live, the way their brain works, the way they are wired,” She said. “… Living in captivity is harmful to them and a lot of them died.
“As a society we realized we needed to stop doing things like hunting them for recreation,” she added.
“They are beautiful animals, and majestic. They are a treasure,” Robinson said. “It is important to do everything we can to maximize their ability to breed and produce big families so my grandchildren can enjoy them as well.”
In order for this to happen, said Pollard, islanders can take care to eat sustainable fish, be mindful of the waters and possible contaminants, recycle and lobby local and state politicians to assist in wildlife preservation efforts.
Both Pollard and Robinson recently released their respective books at the Langley Whale Center; Pollard is in the midst of giving talks at businesses around the Island and Skagit County areas.