Charlie Chin (front) with his probable mother Pointednose Cow

Charlie Chin, scientifically designated M1 and now, with the new naming system for transient orcas, referred to as T1, and his probable mother Pointednose Cow, scientifically named M2 and later T2, were captured on March 1, 1970, at Pedder Bay near Victoria, B.C., together with 3 other orcas. Those were the famous white killer whale Chimo (T4), her probable mother Scarredjaw Cow (T3) and Pointednose Cow’s probable daughter Nootka (T5). After close to a month, Chimo and Nootka were moved to Sealand Victoria. Chimo died there of the rare Chediak-Higashi syndrom (which caused the partial albinism) on November 2, 1972, and Nootka, after several stations finally kept at SeaWorld California, in March 1990.

After 75 days of starvation, Scarredjaw Cow died of apparent maltrition. On this day, observers watched the cow start slowly swimming around the enclosure, crashing into the logs. She seemed to be gulping seawater and was probably suffering dehydration from the salt water and the lack of food. Then, at full steam, she made a run at the net and went through the heavy polyprop up to her dorsal fin. Stuck halfway, she didn’t have the power to push through any farther. Several people tried to cut the net around her, but without success. So they tried to back her into the pool. And she just went backwards, opening her mouth and allowing air bubbles to escape as she sank to the bottom. That was the end of her.

All this time, Pointednose Cow had been floating in the centre of the enclosure, motionless. Charlie Chin lept circling round and round, but before Scarredjaw Cow died, he stopped on the surface and looked over at the observers. There was some vocalizing between the animals. When the cow died, Charlie Chin started grabbing the net in his teeth and yanking on it. The keepers were smacking him on the head, but he hung on. After a while, he let go and returned to his circling pattern.

Charlie Chin’s characteristic dorsal fin

A couple of days later, a Pedder Bay salmon guide brought in some fresh salmon for the whales (Remember, those were marine-mammal eating killer whales, but at the time of events noone knew that those orcas were so highly specialized in their diet!). Charlie Chin was doing his slow circling, and Pointednose Cow was just sitting at the centre of the enclosure. She had become very sunburned, and the keepers had been applying zinc ointment on her skin, which was cracked around the blowhole. The salmon guide was holding the fish out. It was maybe 20 inches long. And Charlie Chin just came up and grabbed it. Then he swam out to Pointednose Cow and started vocalizing. There were exchanges going back and forth as they lay there on the surface. It really seemed like a fairy tale, especially after all this time of not eating. Charlie dropped the salmon right in front of Pointednose Cow’s nose. She grabbed it by the tail, and with the fish hanging out the side of her mouth, she started swimming around the pool, vocalizing. Then Charlie came up beside her and grabbed hold of the head, and with the fish stretched between them, they made a circuit around the pool. All this time, they were talking back and forth. Finally, they ripped the fish apart, and each ate half. A few minutes later, Charlie returned for more. He took another salmon out to Pointednose Cow. This time, she ate the whole thing. Then he came back and got one for himself.

After Charlie Chin helped Pointednose Cow start eating, each of them consumed up to 450 pounds of fish a day. The two whales slowly regained their health. Then Charlie Chin was sold at a cut rate to a marine park in Texas to replace earlier sold Scarredjaw Cow. But before this move could take place, Charlie Chin and Pointednose Cow were “released”. It happened on October 27, 1970. Sometime during the night, someone had let a corner of the net down and threw weights over the floats until they sank to make an escape route for the whales.

Pointednose Cow

After their escape, Charlie Chin and Pointednose Cow returned to a typical transient’s lifestyle, hunting harbour seals and other marine mammals. Pointednose Cow gave birth to her calf T2A around 1972, and the trio was encountered many times around southern Vancouver Island over the next six years. Then, in late 1978 or early 1979, Pointednose Cow gave birth to another calf, T2B, and around the same time T2A disappeared. The group continued to be among the most commonly encountered transients during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and certainly among the most stable. The three were always together and, unlike most transients, were never observed to associate with others in their community.

In 1986, a number of interesting developments took place in the story. First, Charlie Chin began to wander away from the group for the first time. Although he occasionally turned up back with Pointednose Cow and T2B, he often was encountered alone in locations as distant as the Queen Charlotte Islands. In the fall of 1986, Pointednose Cow’s son T2A, who had disappeared in 1978, was encountered. He was found alone, chasing seabirds off northern Vancouver Island. Where he had been for those eight years remains a mystery. Also in 1986, Pointednose Cow and T2B were seen travelling with other transients, another “first” for the group.

Over the next few years, Charlie Chin continued to travel with Pointednose Cow and T2B on a periodic basis. T2A was encountered several more times, then was seen for the last time in Glacier Bay, southeastern Alaska, in 1988. Whether he is dead or has left the region is unknown. In the winter of 1988-89, Pointednose Cow had a new calf, T2C, and the four whales became a fairly stable unit, mixing occasionally with other transients. Then, in early 1992, T2B began to spend most of her time apart from her mother’s group, and Charlie Chin disappeared after last sighted near Dixon Entrance, Alaska.

During the past decade, T2B has continued to associate with a variety of different transients. Only occasionally is she seen back with her mother and her younger sibbling. So far, T2C has not been seen far from her mother’s side. Estimated to be born around 1950, Pointednose Cow (aka Florencia within the B.C. Killer Whale Adoption Program) is now beyond reproductive age. In 2002 T2C had her first calf, T2C1. And in 2005 her second calf, T2C2, was born. Meanwhile, T2B travels as a separate group from them, and in September 2006 she had her first calf, T2B1. Both groups were seen as recently as December 2006.

Photos of Charlie Chin

Photo provided by Nikki Abeln
Charlie Chin breaching
© 1997 National Marine Mammal Laboratory
Photo provided by Mariana Fawkes
Photo by Thomas Jefferson from the book “Dolphins”, provided by Jordan Waltz

Photos of Pointednose Cow

Photo provided by Blackmoon2101