Orcas, From Fear To Admiration & Awe: A Whale Of A Good Time, At Denver Museum of Nature & Science

By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, Photos by Latin Life Denver Media. (See photo gallery below.)

Orcas are known to some Indigenous communities as the guardians of the sea. To some people, Orcas represent the strength of love and the bonds of family because of their strong group behavior. The Orca is a symbol often centered around luck, compassion and family.

Intriguing is the best way to describe the latest exhibit, ‘Orcas’ now at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Intrigue means, “To interest someone a lot, especially by being strange, unusual, or mysterious, it interests you and you want to know more about it.” That is what this exhibit, Orcas inspires: Intrigue.

Orcas are very much like humans but have been misunderstood for centuries. Orcas were given the name ‘killer whale’ by ancient sailors’ observations of groups of Orcas hunting and preying on larger whale species. But to Native Americans and other indigenous people the Orca are known to as the guardians of the sea, a symbol often centered around luck, compassion and family. The Orcas represent the strength of love and the bonds of family because of their strong group behavior.

They have extended families, just like human families. There is a matriarch which is at the head of the family. The family is usually referred to as a pod. A pod is a group of closely related matrilines that likely share a common maternal ancestor and is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins and their children. A pod usually consist of 5 – 30 whales, although some pods may combine to form a group of 100 or more. Orcas establish social hierarchies and pods are led by non-reproductive older females, who often teach hunting skills and help feed younger relatives. The pods/families travel together and are found in oceans throughout the world.

But what happens when humans interfere with the Orcas natural way of life? Orcas live on a steady diet of salmon but over fishing is seriously threatening the food supply for Orcas leaving them stressed and exhausted in their search for food.

Others are hunted for food and sport. Hundreds of others have been captured, separated from their pods and used for entertainment purposes around the world. This has led to the detriment of Orcas.

Many have seen the movie ‘Free Willy’ the true story of Keiko the killer whale. Keiko was captured from the wild and separated from his parents near Iceland in 1979 and lived in a number of aquatic parks before appearing in ‘Free Willy’.

An orphaned boy who befriends the captive Orca, Willy, at an ailing amusement park discovers that the park owners plan to dispose of Willy, he hatches a scheme to break him out of captivity. The roughly six-ton whale died five years later of pneumonia in a Norwegian bay where his team was trying to reintroduce him to the wild.

Another Orca that was set free could not cope without the social interaction that it desired and needed. Not being able to join another pod, the Orca searched out humans on passing boats for socializing as humans were all the Orca had ever known in captivity. It would play and seek interaction with the people on those boats. It was all fun for everyone until the propeller on one of those boats ended up killing the lone Orca.

There is so much more to see and learn at the Orcas exhibit. Too much to describe here. The space for this exhibit is rather large and includes a video immersive experience with life size Orca replicas. There is original indigenous art work depicting the Orcas meaning and significance to indigenous communities and much, much more.

The Orcas, exhibit now at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science located in Denver City Park.

2001 Colorado Blvd. Denver, CO 80205 Ph: 303.370.6000


Open every day 9 a.m-5 p.m.,
Most Fridays 9 a.m.-9 p.m.,
Thanksgiving 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Except December 25

Photos by Latin Life Denver Media