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'Celebration of Orca Greeting Ceremony' raises $16,000 for Whale Museum programs, outreach

By KERRY HARTJEN

More than 150 avid supporters turned out at Mullis Community Senior Center Saturday night for The Whale Museum's third annual Celebration of the Orca Greeting Ceremony. By the end of the evening, the museum had raised more than $16,000 to support its education and research projects.

The popular event, which features a gourmet dinner, raffle, and silent and live auctions, was inspired by an orca greeting ceremony documented in the waters off of Hannah Heights on Oct. 4, 2004, by Dr. Scott Veirs and a group of BeamReach students.

The ceremony is apparently unique to the Southern resident orcas and occurs when two groups come together after having been apart for as little as a day or two.

Just last week, the Southern residents of L pod returned to San Juan Island waters after an absence of 42 days, the longest ever recorded.

Event chairwoman Julie Corey got the evening started by welcoming the crowd and introducing Dr. Val Veirs, president of the Whale Museum's board of directors, who treated the packed house to a short video and sound recording of the first documented orca greeting ceremony.

Visiting film producer, philanthropist and activist Raul Julia-Levy then spoke to the near-capacity crowd about his admiration and respect for the orcas, and urged the audience to continue to support the Whale Museum.

“These are the last of the orcas, you know,” he said. “The last remaining orcas, and they need our help. We have to help them.”

He also shared the story of his involvement with the ongoing effort to have Lolita, a member of L pod, released from the Miami Seaquarium and returned to her family in the Salish Sea. Lolita was captured off of Whidbey Island on Aug. 8, 1970 at age 6. Now 45, she is the oldest living orca in captivity.

The effort to release her, which Julia-Levy is passionate about, has sparked controversy among orca experts and activists for years. Julia-Levy has spent the past 2.5 years enlisting the help of dozens of musicians, actors, and producers — people like Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, and Elton John — and he is convinced that those fighting for her freedom will ultimately win out.

“I believe we are going to get her back,” he said.

After enjoying a dinner prepared by Market Chef — with fresh bread from Bakery San Juan, ice cream from Lopez Creamery, wine from San Juan Vineyards, and coffee from San Juan Roasters — attendees took part in a live dessert auction.

Auctioneer Eugene Cuomo cajoled and coaxed the enthusiastic crowd into raising their fluke-shaped bidding paddles for such treats as Leslie Veirs' “Scrumptious Ice Cream Torte” ($375), a “Death by Chocolate” flourless torte from Margaret Johnson ($225), and a “Maple Pan Cake” by Whale Museum Executive Director Jenny Atkinson ($225).

The bidding was wild and generous – about $2,500 was raised on the desserts alone. The ever-entertaining Cuomo then continued the festivities by conducting an equally successful live auction of dozens of donated items, including artwork, boat trips, hotel stays and more.

The event was sponsored by Islanders Bank, Islanders Insurance, Aiken Appraisal, and Petro San Juan.

Learn more: The Whale Museum, www.whalemuseum.org. Lolita, www.orcanetwork.org/captivity/captivity.html. BeamReach, www.beamreach.org/

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