The orca is not a killer whale

Orcas haven't always been as popular as they are today. The killer whale's image began to change drastically in the mid-1960s, when a male orca later named Namu was captured off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, and towed to the Seattle Aquarium in a floating cage.

When aquarium owner Ted Griffin swam and played with Namu, people began having second thoughts about the powerful mammal the Navy had called "a ruthless and ferocious beast.''

Roman scholar Pliny the Elder described the great mammal as "an enormous mass of flesh armed with savage teeth.'' Translated from Latin, the orca's full name, orcinus orca, means "whale from the realm of the dead.'

' The Samish Indians considered the orca whale a tribal member. Haida Indians to the north called it S'gan (which means "chief of the underworld") and believed it had supernatural powers.

The low point for the orca species came in the middle of the 20th century. Reportedly, the Air Force used orcas for strafing practice and fishermen took pot shots at them pretty regularly.

Then came the captured orca named Namu, and things began to change for the "killer" whale, which is actually NOT a whale at all but the largest member of the dolphin family.

In the late '70s, Ralph Munro (the recently retired secretary of state, then an aide to Washington Gov. Dan Evans) persuaded his boss to go to court and stop an orca hunt by Sea World. That court case eventually ended orca captures in Puget Sound.

Researchers began cataloging the Puget Sound orcas, identifying them through their distinctive black-and-white markings, (which are different on each individual orca) and charting a complex, family-oriented social structure.

They learned that groups of orcas (the sound has three resident pods appear to have special greetings for each other and communicate in squeals and clicks, as do other members of the dolphin family.

These days, the orca is called an "orca" much more often than it's called a "killer whale," and rightly so.

When you see an orca, it's something you feel in your soul.

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