By Oliver Lazenby
A Blaine Elementary School fourth grade student’s passion for releasing orca whales from captivity has led her around the state on a summer of advocacy.
In July, 9-year-old London Fletcher attended Superpod on San Juan Island, an annual international gathering of scientists, filmmakers, former orca trainers and others who want to see orcas thrive in the wild.
At Superpod, she attended a conference on student advocacy, where she turned some heads.
Lori Marino, a neuroscientist who is internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain in dolphins and whales, wrote this about London on her blog: “The audience’s attention was also captured by an even younger voice: that of 9-year-old London Fletcher from Washington state. London is already an outstanding scholar-advocate with intelligence and maturity beyond her years.”
Weeks after Superpod, London traveled to four dams on the lower Snake River, north of Walla Walla, to raise awareness about their detrimental effects on salmon populations. It’s an issue that London found through her love of Orcas.
“Salmon numbers are being depleted because of the dams, so the orcas don’t have enough to eat,” London said.
Also this year, Dr. Ingrid Visser, a top orca researcher, invited London to come to New Zealand for three weeks to study with her at the Orca Research Trust.
“These are the tip top researchers in the world and I just feel so lucky that they have taken an interest in London,” said London’s dad, Joel Fletcher.
London is saving money to make the trip. She’s also working on starting a school club to educate kids her age about marine mammals and she plans to organize a screening of an orca documentary called “Voiceless” later this fall in Blaine.
London’s interest in orca advocacy started in 2013 after she saw the documentary Blackfish. Before seeing the film, she wanted to work in an aquarium. The documentary, which outlines the consequences of keeping an orca in captivity, changed her mind. Now, she wants to be a scientist: a cetologist, to be exact.
London saw orcas in the wild for the first time at the Superpod conference, as four or five orcas swam past Lime Kiln Point State Park on the west side of San Juan Island.
“It was pretty magical,” she said. “They were just so big. At that moment I didn’t understand why someone would want to put them in a pool.”