A Bill Reid Whale Sculpture and Killer Whales in Captivity

Bill Reid (1920-1998) was a popular and respected British Columbian sculptor and goldsmith. His mother was a member of the Haida Nation and his father was American. Bill didn’t begin exploring his Haida roots until he was an adult. His discoveries influenced much of his work.

“Chief of the Undersea World” is a sculpture of a killer whale designed by Bill Reid and placed outside the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. The facility contained killer whales when the sculpture was placed in position. Skana—a whale that once lived at the aquarium——had the same name as the mythical being represented by the sculpture. The keeping of whales in captivity has been a contentious issue in Vancouver but appears to be more-or-less resolved

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Chief of the Undersea World; photo by Linda Crampton

Chief of the Undersea World

Bill Reid’s whale sculpture is 5.5 metres high and is made of bronze. Though Bill designed the whale and created a small boxwood model of it, other people were involved in creating the actual sculpture. Unfortunately, by the time of its creation, Bill had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and needed some help.

The sculpture was created in 1983 and unveiled in front of the aquarium on June 2nd, 1984. It was donated by Jim and Isabel Graham, who were the official owners of the sculpture at that time. The whale stands in a reflecting pool of water. The plaque beneath it contains the following inscription.

Skana – The Killer Whale known by the Haida to be chief of the world below the sea who from his great house raised the storms of the winter and brought calm to the seas of summer. He governed the mystical cycle of the salmon and was keeper of all the oceans (sic) living treasure.


The sculpture’s location outside the aquarium; photo by Linda Crampton

History of Killer Whales at the Vancouver Aquarium

Killer whales have the scientific name Orcinus orca and are sometimes known as orcas. The history of orcas at the Vancouver Aquarium is sad, but the story has become happier over time. The aquarium no longer keeps whales in captivity. In addition, it’s very likely that a law will soon pass prohibiting the keeping of any cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in captivity in Canada.

Moby Doll was the first orca exhibited by the Vancouver Aquarium and the first one anywhere that was displayed to the public while in captivity. He was shown in a pen at Jericho Beach in Vancouver in 1964 and died in the same year 86 days later.

Skana and Hyak were the next orcas to arrive at the aquarium. They lived in the main facility in Stanley Park. Skana was captured in the wild in 1967 and was thought to be around six years old at the time. She died in 1980 from an infection but was still remembered by the public when Bill Reid created his sculpture. Hyak joined Skana in 1968 and died in 1991.

A female named Bjossa and a male named Finna were the last orcas to arrive at the aquarium. They were captured in 1980 and reached the facility shortly after Skana’s death. They produced calves, which didn’t live for long. Finna died in 1997. In 2000, the aquarium announced that it would no longer keep killer whales in captivity (though it still had beluga whales) and Bjossa was sent to SeaWorld San Diego in the United States. She died from a respiratory illness in 2001.

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Two killer whales or orcas; public domain photo by skeeze

Some Good News in 2018

In January, 2018, the aquarium voluntarily announced that they would no longer keep cetaceans in captivity. There are two exceptions to this rule. One is Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin with flippers that were partially amputated in an unknown event before she arrived at the aquarium. The injuries can be seen in the photo below.  Helen has been deemed unreleasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Her situation is difficult. She should have companions, but she isn’t young and the journey to another facility could be dangerous.

The other exception is cetaceans that are rescued. The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is part of the aquarium but is located outside of Stanley Park. The centre cares for stranded marine mammals and then releases them into the wild. The problem is what to do with any rescued animals that are deemed unreleasable once they recover as much as possible from their injuries. They might be kept off-exhibit, but they may need to be transferred to a facility in another country if the law described below passes. Sea pens are sometimes suggested as intermediate habitats between life in a tank and life in the wild and might be acceptable under the new legislation.

In October, 2018, a bill prohibiting the keeping of cetaceans in captivity was passed by the Canadian Senate. The bill has to be passed by the House of Commons in order to become law, but this is expected to happen. The legislation will apply not only to the Vancouver Aquarium, which has voluntarily passed its own “law”.  Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, houses captive cetaceans and appears to be the main target of the new legislation. It’s possible that the law will allow for gradual changes in aquariums instead of immediate and complete changes, which could be helpful for Helen.


This is a photograph of Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin. I took the photo while she was in her shallow tank. She also has a deeper one.

Personal Observations and Thoughts

I’ve lived in the Greater Vancouver area for a long time and have seen some of the changes at the aquarium. When I first visited the facility when Skana and Hyak were alive, the whales that lived there performed the typical behaviours used to entertain the public at the time, including high leaps out of the water. Over time, the cetacean shows were gradually toned down and became more educational. The whales and dolphins eventually performed relatively simple behaviours, such as displaying a flipper, their caudal fins (or tail), or their belly as the announcer described their external anatomy and then demonstrating their swimming ability.

I lived here when the aquarium announced when it would no longer catch cetaceans in the wild but only obtain them from other institutions, then said that they would no longer house killer whales, and finally said they would no longer house any cetaceans at all. The changes have been gradual but significant.

It’s true that getting a close view of a cetacean is educational and fascinating and that captive animals can help wildlife researchers learn more about their species. In my opinion, this isn’t a justification for keeping cetaceans in captivity. They are intelligent beings that roam for long distances in their natural habitat and often live with many others of their kind. Keeping them captive in a small tank with little to do is a horrible fate for them to face.


The Vancouver Aquarium celebrates 60 years from the Vancouver Sun

Orcas at the Vancouver Aquarium from the Orca Network

Girl in a Wetsuit Sculpture in Stanley Park

“Girl in a Wetsuit” is an iconic sculpture in Stanley Park, Vancouver. The girl is located on top of a large rock near the seawall. The rock may or may not be partially covered by the tide, depending on the current conditions, but the girl is always visible. She’s meant to be seen by people travelling along the path on top of the seawall and is a popular sight. She’s sometimes referred to as the “Little Mermaid” after the famous Copenhagen sculpture.


Girl in a wetsuit and bull kelp; photo by Linda Crampton

Elek Imredy and his Girl in a Wetsuit Sculpture

The sculpture was placed on the rock in 1972 and was created by Elek Imredy. It’s located on the north shore of Stanley Park next to Burrard Inlet and is best reached from a route or path near the waterfront. Imredy (1912-1994) was Canadian and lived in Vancouver but was originally from Hungary. He is known for the creation of other statues as well as “Girl in a Wetsuit”.

The statue was based on the pose of a model named Debra Harrington, who was one of Imredy’s friends. It’s made of bronze and depicts a woman sitting on the rock. She’s wearing a wetsuit and has a mask on her forehead and flippers on her feet. She seems to be thinking about something as she looks into the distance.

There’s often more to see than just the girl. Birds such as gulls and cormorants perch on her head and bull kelp can sometimes be seen bobbing on the surface of the water around her, as seen in my photo above. The backdrop of activity in Burrard Inlet is often interesting as well as the condition of the water and the sky.

Rumour and Controversy

The sculpture is much-loved but is also somewhat controversial. A rumour says that it’s a loose copy of the “Little Mermaid” sculpture in Denmark. Imredy knew of the rumour and denied it. He said that he wanted to create a sculpture of a life-sized scuba diver for the rock, since the sport was becoming popular in Vancouver at the time, and that he had no intention of copying the Copenhagen sculpture.


A different view of the sculpture; photo by Bobanny, public domain license

The Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen

“The Little Mermaid” also depicts a girl sitting on the rock, surrounded by the ocean, and looking into the distance. Her expression looks more sad than pensive, however, as befits the character that she represents. In this case the girl is a mermaid who is wearing no clothes, as might be expected for the mythical creature. The statue was unveiled in 1913 and is located by the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen.

The mermaid was created by Edvard Eriksen (1876-1959) and is made of bronze. She has an interesting history. She is based on the little mermaid in the fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson. Two women posed for the sculpture. One was a Danish ballet dancer named Ellen Price, who posed for the head and face. The dancer refused to pose in the nude, however, so Eriksen’s wife Eline was the model for rest of the body.

Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Anderson published his story in 1836. It a sad, dark, and somewhat disturbing tale about a mermaid who wants to become a human. She yearns to obtain an immortal soul after she falls in love with a human prince. She experiences physical pain and psychological heartbreak in the effort to reach her goal.

In the original ending of the story, the mermaid fails to achieve her goal and disintegrates into sea foam. In a revised ending created later by the author, she is told that if she does good deeds for humans for three hundred years she will gain an immortal soul. The story can be read for free at the Project Gutenberg website, which is a great resource for public domain books and stories.

The Vancouver Sculpture

The Vancouver sculpture is linked to none of the pathos of the Danish one, so from that point of view it could be seen as unrelated. On the other hand, it does depict a female on an ocean rock close to shore who is looking into the distance and the girl does have flippers that are reminiscent of a mermaid’s tail.

Both sculptures are interesting. The only one that I can visit in person is the Vancouver one, and I’m happy to do so. I always stop for a little while to look at the girl in the wetsuit before I continue my walk along the seawall.

Creek Life: A Pair of Mallards and Facts About the Ducks


A male and female mallard

I live near several creeks that drain off a nearby mountain. I often see one or two mallards in a particular part of the creek system. I sometimes discover that when I see only one (generally the male), the other is hiding on the bank. In March a few years ago, I found the handsome pair shown in my first two photos.

The mallard has the scientific name Anas platyrhynchos. It’s a common duck in southwestern British Columbia. The bird is found in water and wetlands and is classified as a dabbling duck. It tips its head into the water and its tail into the air to reach the aquatic plants and small animals that it eats. It gets some of its food on land, however. In park ponds, it’s happy to accept food offerings from humans. The bird usually gathers in flocks but may be seen in pairs during the breeding season.


The male’s curly black “tail” can be seen in this photo.

Many people would probably consider the male to be the most attractive member of the pair. He has a glossy green head, a yellow bill, a narrow white “necklace”, and a dark brown chest. He also has a curly black feathers at the end of his body above his tail.

The female has mottled brown plumage and a duller bill than the male. Both genders have orange legs and a patch of blue feathers on their wings called a speculum. The speculum is often outlined with white and black and is sometimes visible when the wings are folded, as in the female in the photos above.


My sister took this photo of a mallard duckling in a botanical garden in Vancouver.

The breeding season for the ducks starts in late March where I live. The two adults in my photos were almost certainly a breeding pair. Researchers say that a bird choses its partner in the fall while the ducks are still in a flock, long before the breeding season begins.

The male stays with the female as the pair search for a nesting site. The female constructs the nest on the ground in a hidden area near the water. The male remains with her for a short while after the eggs are laid, but at some point during the incubation he leaves. The clutch size varies considerably. The eggs hatch in around thirty days and the youngsters grow quickly. They fledge and become independent around fifty to sixty days after hatching.

At the end of the breeding season, the adults lose their flight feathers. During this stage they are said to be in their eclipse plumage and the male looks much like a female. The period lasts for three or four weeks. Some species of ducks are secretive during this potentially dangerous stage in their lives because they can’t fly away from predators. I often see mallards in eclipse in flocks, though.

After the breeding season and when the ducklings have matured, the birds stay in a flock at least until the following March. Courtship displays begin in the fall. The birds become very active and perform a wide variety of ritualistic behaviours, which are often easily observed. They are always interesting to watch.

I photographed the flock below in February at a lake fed by one of my local creeks. People often sit on the benches to feed the birds seeds. The animals are quite confident  and frequently come close to the people who are feeding them.


The bench where people often sit to admire or feed the ducks.

Many other interesting facts about the birds have been discovered. For example:

  • The mallard gave rise to many breeds of domestic ducks.
  • Mallards easily hybridize with some other duck species.
  • The females quack but the males don’t. Instead, they produce a sound that resembles a rasp.
  • The female is known for her “decrescendo call.” She gives a series of quacks, started with the highest pitched and loudest one and ending with the lowest pitched and softest one.
  • According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, researchers have discovered that mallards can fly up to an estimated fifty-five miles an hour.

Mallards have been the most common ducks in my environment everywhere that I’ve lived on two different continents. Despite this fact, scientists are still learning more about them. As I often say, nature is always fascinating.