Digital Orca Sculpture in Vancouver and Douglas Coupland Facts

Last updated on January 3rd, 2022

The digital orca sculpture in Vancouver

The waterfront is an interesting area in downtown Vancouver. It has many attractions for tourists and residents as well as some lovely scenery. The area has a large pier with a promenade as well as an enjoyable walking and cycling trail beside the water. One of the attractions of the waterfront is the Digital Orca sculpture next to the eastern building of the Vancouver Convention Centre. The sculptor was Douglas Coupland, who is an artist, designer, and writer.

Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver

The Digital Orca was created (or at least installed) in 2009. The sculpture is located at Jack Poole Plaza and is backed by Burrard Inlet and the Coast Mountains. When the sculpture is viewed from the correct angle, Stanley Park can be seen as well. Jack Poole was a businessman who led the committee that successfully won Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Unfortunately, he died of cancer before the games began. The plaza named in his honour is linked to the games because it contains the Olympic Cauldron, which was lit during the event. Today the cauldron is lit on special occasions.

British Columbian Orcas in Real Life

In real life, the orca (Orcinus orca) is also called the killer whale. It’s an intelligent and social animal that can be seen off the BC coast and occasionally in Burrard Inlet. Orcas live in family groups called pods. The orcas off the coast of British Columbia are divided into three groups: the residents, Biggs (formerly known as transients), and the offshore animals. According to the Vancouver Aquarium, the three groups are genetically distinct. In addition, they have different diets, their calls are different, and some other aspects of their behaviour are different as well.

The back of the digital orca sculpture and a view of downtown Vancouver

The Whale Sculpture at Jack Poole Plaza

The digital orca sculpture is made of steel covered by powdered-coated aluminum. Its surface consists of black and white blocks which are meant to represent the pixels of a computer monitor. When a viewer is close to the structure, the blocks can clearly be seen. As a viewer moves further away, the blocks become less clearly distinguished from one another and gradually start to blend together, just like the pixels on some computer monitors.

A more distant view of the sculpture is shown in the left background of the photo below. I took the photo when Jack Poole Plaza was being used for the Vancouver Christmas Market. The sculpture can still be approached at this time, since it’s located just outside the boundary of the market.

Burrard Inlet and the Christmas Market

An Optical Illusion

Douglas Coupland has said that he wanted to create an unexpected sensation for the viewer with his sculpture. The sensation is greatest when we approach the sculpture from a distance. At first, we might think that there’s a giant killer whale beside the water as we see the sculpture. As we get nearer, we may be surprised to discover that the whale is made of blocks carefully joined together to create the correct shape and appearance of an orca. When we’re very close to the sculpture, it looks like a meaningless jumble of blocks. As we move away, a pattern emerges and the orca can be seen again.

Douglas Coupland (CC BY-SA 3.0 license, photo provided by the artist under this license)

Douglas Coupland Facts

Douglas Coupland was born in 1961 in Germany on a Canadian NATO base. He lives in Vancouver and grew up in the area. He attended the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, a well-known institution in Vancouver, though at that time it was a college rather than a university. Emily Carr (1871–1945) was a famous painter and writer who was born in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia.

Douglas Coupland has been involved in many creative projects. His first novel was published in 1991 and is entitled Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Though the term “generation x” had been used before Coupland’s novel was published, he gave it its modern meaning. He used the term to refer to the demographic group born in the 1960s. The boundaries of the demographic groups vary—sometimes significantly—according to a researcher’s ideas. Today they are approximately as follows.

  • Silent Generation: People born in the mid to late 1920s to the mid 1940s (Several proposals have been made to explain the origin of the term “silent generation”. It’s unknown which is correct.)
  • Baby Boomers: People born in 1946 to the early 1960s
  • Generation X: People born in the early 1960s to the early 1980s (or sometimes the late 1970s)
  • Millennials: People born in the early 1980s to the mid 1990s
  • Generation Z: People born in the mid 1990s to ? (The end date is undecided at the moment.)

Although Coupland trained as an artist, he has become a prolific writer. He’s written short stories, plays, screenplays, and nonfiction as well as novels. He is also a newspaper columnist. Coupland is an Officer of the Order of Canada as well as a member of the Order of British Columbia. In 2017, he received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in British Columbia.

The Vortex Exhibition at the Vancouver Aquarium

Today Douglas Copeland continues to mix writing with art and design. The Vancouver Aquarium recently displayed an exhibition that he designed. It opened in May, 2018. It was supposed to end in May, 2019 but ran until November, 2019. The exhibition was called “Vortex”. Its theme was plastic pollution in the ocean.  As the aquarium said, it involved an “imaginative journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. The exhibition provided an important message to visitors as well as entertainment.

A highlight of “Vortex” included a battered fishing boat and its constructed crew sitting in a 50,000 litre tank of water filled with plastic debris. Copeland collected much of the plastic form Haida Gwaii, a beautiful archipelago off the coast of British Columbia. Even here, debris from human activity can be found.

Coupland knows that microplastics are the major problem in many parts of the ocean at the moment (and in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), but he wanted to create an effect with the larger pieces of plastic that float on the surface and that people notice.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are produced by the degradation of larger ones. They are widespread on the surface of the ocean and within it. In some parts of the world, however, bigger and very noticeable pieces of plastic cover the water and beaches. Some of humanity’s effects on the oceans of the world are shameful.

“Chief of the Undersea World” by Bill Reid is a stylized orca located in front of the Vancouver Aquarium

Skana – the killer whale known by the Haida to be chief of the world beneath the sea who from his great house raised the storms of winter and brought calm to the seas of summer.

Plaque on the “Chief of the Undersea World” sculpture

Vancouver Aquarium Facts

The Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park and is the headquarters of Ocean Wise. The goal of this organization is to promote the appreciation and understanding of the ocean. It’s also involved in research to learn more about marine life. The aquarium contains both aquatic and terrestrial animals for the public to see. In addition, it runs a marine mammal rescue organization.

The aquarium no longer keeps cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in captivity, with the exception of one animal. Helen is a rescued Pacific white-sided dolphin who is quite advanced in years. She has a partially amputated flipper and would be unlikely to survive in the wild. (The injury happened before she arrived at the aquarium).The aquarium has apparently found a home for her, but transport problems have arisen due to the COVID-19 situation.

Another view of the digital orca beside the Christmas Market

The Vancouver Waterfront

The waterfront is always a great place to visit. It’s quick to reach from the downtown area. Walking towards the mountains from the centre of the downtown area will take you there. Turning right from the front entrance of the Waterfront Station as you emerge from it will also enable you to reach the digital orca and other attractions. The station is serviced by buses, SkyTrain (a light rapid transit system), SeaBus (which crosses Burrard Inlet), and a train known as the West Coast Express.

In addition to the attractions that are always present at the waterfront, special ones are present at certain times of the year, such as on Canada Day (July 1st) and at Christmas time. In summer, cruise ships that will take people to Alaska can be seen because the Canada Place pier is a terminal for the vessels. The scenic walking trail that starts at Canada Place travels beside the water and takes people to Stanley Park and the aquarium. i visit the waterfront quite often and always enjoy exploring the area. There’s always something new to see there, either on land or in the water. I nearly take a look at the Digital Orca when I’m in the area.