Lummi, whale advocates pay tribute to oldest orca

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. – The Ohileq-sen Canoe Family from the Lummi Nation led a tribute Sept. 26 for K7, a Southern Resident killer whale that did not return with her pod this year.

The Center for Whale Research estimates the whale was born in 1910, making her the oldest of the estimated 87 orcas that frequent the straits and sounds around the San Juan Islands. K7 was given the name “Lummi” through The Whale Museum’s Orca Adoption Program, in honor of the first people of the San Juan Islands.

Lummi was a great-great-grandmother – the leader of a five-generation subgroup of orcas within K pod. That pod and two others have been declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Depleted salmon runs and pollution are considered two main reasons for the precariousness of the whales’ population.

People gathered at Lime Kiln Point State Park lighthouse to celebrate the life of Lummi. “These are songs [she] may have heard in her time,” said James Hillaire, of the Ohileq-sen Canoe Family. “These are songs our ancestors used to sing as they paddled their canoes from village to village in this area.”

Whale advocates shared stories of the life of Lummi. Local artist Jocelyn Russell donated an original painting of Lummi to be auctioned off at the event.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.