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Kalia greets Joy Marie at Sea World in San Diego

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Uploaded on Jan 23, 2011

Artistic Nature Magazine (http://tinyurl.com/ANM-Kalia ) has an article in the Nov-Dec 2010 issue (http://tinyurl.com/LhP-ANM010 ) about this encounter between a magazine writer on assignment and a young, playful orca. Here is an excerpt:

Something very special happened to me when we were photographing the orcas at Sea World: As the orcas swam laps around their big tank, they came by us at the viewing window. Everyone else there stood still and didn't say much. Because of my work with animals for this magazine, I found myself talking to the orcas each time they came by.

That's when something very special happened. The smallest orca, a 5-year-old named Kalia, stopped in the middle of her laps, turned toward me and swam right over to me, looking into my eyes. She stayed there for a while, then swam another lap around the tank. Then she came back again with her face at my knees, looking into my eyes again, this time for even longer. This happened about 15 times. Every time she got halfway around the tank, she would stop her lap and swim directly over to me for another chat, squealing gleefully as orcas do.

Then she went off and got a fish, and brought it to me. When I didn't take the fish (because there was glass between us), she started pushing the fish against the window between us. She did this again and again, and did not swallow the fish (which deteriorated rather badly after a while, but still she tried to give it to me by pushing it against the glass near my hand). Everyone else kept saying, "It's amazing! She always comes to you!"

Having done a lot of research on whales and dolphins for a previous issue of this magazine on sea mammals, I knew some things about the dolphin family. (Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family.)

In my research, I discovered that dolphin trainers speak to them with their hands. That means that when you hold your hand out to a dolphin, it is a sign of friendship and communication to them.

So even though you are not a trainer, they feel like you are saying hello if you hold out your hand toward them. They also receive voice commands from their trainers. And they can hear very well, so they also feel loved when you speak to them loudly but sweetly, in an endearing way. When Kalia first started coming over to me, she had only heard my voice. I started putting my hand out toward her after she came over to me and stayed looking at me for a while. This attracted her to further conversation.

As well as knowing this, I also knew that orcas love people because of an experience I had many years ago, when I was the same age as my daughter is now. In those days, they let people pet the baby orca in a petting pool at Sea World. This baby orca loved to be petted, kissed, and hugged by people. She was never aggressive, never tried to bite, and did not even try to get away from the crowds of people. She just drank it all in. She was so soft and squishy, like deep foam rubber, and her skin was so smooth. Her mouth was huge, with a row of very sharp teeth. But it stayed open in a smile, and I just loved her. That orca was Kalia's mother, Kasatka, at the same age as Kalia is now! (We carefully researched where she was and when.)

I'm sure that experience affected me when I saw Kalia and got me to be more friendly toward her than I might otherwise have been. And she responded to me with fondness in return. I have found that a lot of animals love when you talk to them. I grew up with a sister who always talked to animals, and they loved her for it.

So go ahead and talk to animals. Don't feel shy. They may not all respond as Kalia did. Animals that can be trained are much more likely to respond to people than less intelligent animals. But you never know what kind of friend you might make next.

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