In the afternoon, more than a dozen orcas from J and K pods where swimming along the island’s shoreline, occasionally spy hopping or cartwheeling with tails splashing in the water.
Islanders and visitors gathered on the rocks of Lime Kiln Point State Park with binoculars and cameras watching the whales go by.
At 7 p.m., the City Cantabile Choir began singing to whales, but by then they were in waters far to the north.
Even though the whales passed by early, close to 100 people came together as a community for the 12th annual Orca Sing, a night of music, which celebrates killer whales. Tonight Orca Sing pays special tribute to the orca, known as J-1 Ruffles, who has been missing since the fall.
Choir director, Fred West, was initially inspired to put on an “Orca Sing” after one night at Blackfish Sound in British Columbia. Around midnight, West and some friends were singing a Hebrew chant around a campfire when they noticed a pod of orcas.
“They seemed to be drawn by our singing,” West said. “Whales kind of get the worst of people… what they hear of our sound is really difficult to deal with; low frequency sonar, boat engines, especially from tankers, are really tough on them.”
West’s idea was to present sounds to the orcas that showed a more positive side of human culture. The choir performs songs ranging from original works, African tribal songs and classics like “Deep River.”
Attendees at the show travel from as close as Friday Harbor to as far as Holland.
“It gives people a chance to gather, to form community, to put aside politics or issues and just think about what beautiful creatures they [orcas] are and what a beautiful place they’re in, and how we’re all a part of that,” said Jenny Atkinson, director of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. “It’s really bittersweet to celebrate Ruffles, but you can’t deny he’s just really important and he’ll never be forgotten.”
Ruffles was estimated to be about 60 years old when he went missing at the end of November.
Odin Lonning and “Orcas” Annie Stateler paid special tribute to Ruffles by performing a traditional Tlingit song with drums.
“He’s leaving a legacy,” Stateler said. “Ruffles is very beloved by people who follow these whales and are concerned about their well-being.”
This is also an opportunity to “remind people how important killer whales have always been to all coastal Native tribes,” Lonning said. “We do that in lots of ways, this is one more.”
The whales did not return to Lime Kiln for the concert, but they remained decorated on Lonning’s handmade drum, etched into Stateler’s silver earrings and screen printed onto Atkinson’s cotton shirt. So in some ways, the killer whales were everywhere.
“We’re just happy to put this out there and gather people together in the spirit of being good stewards of the earth,” the choir’s director West said. “Whether they come or not, this is for them.”