Rachael Merrett – “We Can Learn So Much From Them (Orcas)”
December 21, 2015
“Everything they do in the wild is by choice.”
That’s Rachael Merrett, one of the friendly faces you’ll see leading the way on Orca Spirit’s Whale Watching adventures. Rachael lives and breathes orca whales, it’s an obsession she’s held ever since she saw these magnificent creatures in the wild as a child.
I caught up with Rachael to get some insight into her life, her work and the future of BC’s orca population.
Kelvin: Tell me about the programs you’re involved in, you’re pretty busy I’ve heard.
Rachael: Well I work for a company called Archipelago Marine Research in addition to whale watching. I’m also on an advisory board for BC Marine Mammal Response Network and I am a member of an international non-profit organization called the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.
I became a Director with the Cetus Research Conservation Society, which works to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales who I watch all the time with Orca Spirit.
Tell me a little bit more about Orca Spirit and how you got into this line of work.
When I was six years old I started spending every summer with my aunt and uncle in Vancouver and I have a very distinct memory of seeing a killer whale. I’m from Saskatchewan, so when I got back home that summer I told my dad I was going to be a marine biologist and study killer whales. And I just didn’t change my mind over the years, and here I am.
What was that like then when you were six years old, the first time you saw killer whales?
It’s sort of an un-describable fascination to be honest. It’s hard to explain what drew me to them. I’m passionate about lots of animals in nature, I always have been, but there’s just a connection to killer whales that really hard to put into words. I can’t really describe what they mean to me, other than to say everything about them fascinates me.
I’ve heard from other naturalists that there’s a unique connection that has to be experienced to be understood. Do you think it’s because of their intelligence? Where do you think that comes from?
It’s more than that, but their intelligence is certainly part of it. I just remember as a kid looking at them and just knowing there is so much more going on inside their heads than we can tell, but you know it’s there.
As I’ve learned about them and the connections they have with their families and how they take care of each other, I think humanity could learn a lot of life lessons from orcas. If another whale is injured or sick or from a different matriline, they don’t discriminate, they invite them in and they help care for them. They just take care of each other.
So from that initial connection you had, it’s grown into something more as you’ve learned more about them and how they live?
Yeah, for sure. Plus when you’re little, you’re just so awestruck because they’re were huge and beautiful. I still remember the first time I noticed that striking black and white pattern that everybody loves.
They’re very gentle, you can tell that they are gentle. They can be powerful if they want but they choose to be gentle, loving creatures.
You’re clearly dedicated and passionate about your work in this industry, but it sounds like just that, a lot of work. Ultimately, weighing all that, what does your job mean to you on a day-to-day basis?
I work in whale watching for, one part anyways, selfish reasons. I simply need to go see them. I would feel very unfulfilled in my life if I couldn’t spend at least some of my days with these animals. The other part is definitely education.
I think when you can take people who have only identified with killer whales from what they’ve seen on a documentary or in captivity, and show them the true behaviour of killer whales and be able to say, “Hey that’s Blackberry, or that’s Polaris and Polaris has a sister named Tahlequah, and these sisters have daughters that are actually older than their Uncle Moby…”, that’s what ties it all together.
The family bond demonstrated is one we should all be copying. For me, I love explaining these family connections and educating people on their social structure, their language, their feeding habits and how they’re specialized into populations.
I think that’s all important, because the more people learn about anything in life, the more likely they are to care about it, and the more likely they are to protect it.