Illustration of the new pop-up whale feature at Centennial Square. Contributed illustration.

Illustration of the new pop-up whale feature at Centennial Square. Contributed illustration.

Whales coming to Centennial Square

New pop-up play feature pays tribute to killer whales off the coast of Vancouver Island.

By Tim Collins

This summer, Victorians and visitors alike will see orcas swimming in Centennial Square, or at least some life-sized models of the iconic cetaceans.

It’s the result of an initiative by the City of Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) in which urban and industrial designers, architects, contemporary artists, and other creative types were invited to submit concepts for a pop-up play feature for Centennial Square. The winning design, entitled Follow the Pod, was submitted by a Vancouver-Island based team led by WildVision Edutainment Inc. and Envision Designs and Development, and features a tribute to the killer whales off the coast of Vancouver Island.

“This is the perfect way for us to get out the message of how vulnerable the threatened southern resident killer whales population really is. It starts with the kids who will have a chance to hug the whales and play on them,” said Chris Porter of the Follow the Pod team.

“We hope that it’s going to raise awareness with the children and their parents and maybe make a difference in our approach to these magnificent animals.”

Porter’s own approach to killer whales has certainly changed. He started work with Sea Land of the Pacific 25 years ago where he worked to capture cetaceans for display all over the world.

He was also one of the people who worked with Tilikum, the orca made infamous after it killed three trainers while in captivity. After the death of the third trainer and the subsequent death of Tilikum, Porter left Sea Land, intent on finding a better way to save the threatened whales.

“I had been of the opinion for a long time that what we were doing was going to help preserve the species, but the truth is that after 50 years of collecting orcas off our own coast it’s apparent the species is more at risk than ever,” said Porter.

Porter feels it’s time for the public to get smarter in our approach to orcas, as only 79 of the creatures have survived off Vancouver Island’s coast.

He feels his groups display will honour the surviving animals and personalize the actual whales to the public as they are accurate replicas of real whales.

“We have Granny, who scientists know as J2. She’s over 100 years old and has been studied for over 50 years. We have a great pose of her in our display that the kids will be able to interact with her at Centennial Square,” said Porter, adding that each of the whales in the wild have names as well as their numerical designations.

“They’re all unique and special, and we’ve reflected that in our display.”

More information is available at victoria.ca/popupsquare.

editor@vicnews.com