Science News

Park ranger feels peace with killer whales

PUERTO MADRYN, Argentina (Reuters) - Killer whales are ferocious predators but park ranger Roberto Bubas feels a profound peace in close encounters with the enormous creatures.

The 37-year-old from Puerto Madryn, in southern Argentina, said he watched and photographed orcas from the shore for years before he felt them calling to him and waded into the ocean to touch them.

“When you get close to these animals it inspires calm, peace,” said Bubas, who has been filmed and photographed clapping his hands on the sea to attract the killer whales.

They swam up to the shore at the Valdes Peninsula nature reserve, approaching him in pairs or threes, and he stroked their snouts as if they were giant pets.

Orcas can weigh more than 6 tonnes. At 6 to 8 meters (19 to 26 feet) or even bigger, they are the largest member of the dolphin family.

Bubas’ communication with the orcas -- he also plays the harmonica to them -- was featured on a cable television special series “Jane Goodall’s When Animals Talk.”

He stopped last year because of complaints that he is violating laws against touching marine mammals in protected areas of Patagonia.

“All those years that people denounced me for getting in the water with the orcas, at the same time a lot of other people understood me and sent letters to the governor saying ‘we don’t want Roberto Bubas to go away from there,’” he said.

Park officials patrol Peninsula Valdes to keep tourists off the beaches so that they do not disturb wildlife, including the orcas, their sea lion prey, penguins, and other animals.

Bubas has seen both sides of the orcas’ personality.

As well as petting them he has photographed the unique hunting technique of the 30-member pod of orcas that lives off the shore of the Valdes Peninsula.

These are the only orcas in the world that capture prey -- in this case baby sea lions -- by launching their entire bodies onto the beach.

Besides his park guard work, Bubas also advises wild-life film crews who visit the area and is writing a nature book on what he has learned about the orcas.

“Since I was very little I’ve had a link with big and strange-looking animals, but orcas demand a lot more respect than a horse or a bad dog.”

Reporting by Damian Wroclavsky; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Eddie Evans