Blackfish, a documentary filmed directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, began as an investigation into the events leading to the death of veteran Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. What it has turned into is a worldwide sensation that is making people everywhere question the morality of keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity, and bringing major attention to an issue that has been a hot topic on San Juan Island for years.
Brancheau died of blunt force trauma to the upper part of her body when the now infamous orca, Tilikum, dragged her into the water during a routine demonstration for a crowd. The 41-year-old trainer was the most experienced at Sea World Orlando and had, by all accounts, a close bond with Tilikum. She was the third person to die from an attack by Tilikum, who has been shifted from park to park since he was captured. There is no record of any wild orca killing a human being.
Orcas are among the only members of the animal kingdom who are sentient creatures, meaning they experience emotions and complex thoughts similar to humans. Because of this, the filmmakers and stars of Blackfish are all strongly opposed to keeping them in captivity and making them perform tricks for paying customers. They believe that the highly complex social structure of wild orcas can’t be mimicked in captivity, and there is evidence to back up their opinion.
Wild orcas, like the southern resident community of San Juan Island, live long lives – an average of 50-60 years for males and 70-80 for
females. The average age of orcas in captivity is 14. Each family group of orcas, or pod, has its own distinct dialect, and researchers can often determine which pod is nearby simply by listening to their calls over a hydrophone (underwater microphone). The orcas in marine parks are generally from different pods, or perhaps even different subspecies of orcas, and cannot communicate or bond with each other the way that wild orcas do. There is often aggression and physical abuse among captive orcas.
Many of the stars of Blackfish are former Sea World trainers who have expressed shame at being part of keeping the whales in captivity. They have all been to San Juan Island to see wild orcas; some footage of their visits can be seen in Blackfish. San Juan Island’s own Ken Balcomb and Howard Garrett are also in the film. Balcomb is the director of the Center for Whale Research, which has been studying the orcas here since the mid-70s; Garrett is the founder of Orca Network, a non-profit meant to raise awareness about the southern residents.
The trainers in the film — Jeffrey Ventre, Carol Ray, Samantha Berg, and Dr. John Jett — have formed an organization called Voice of the Orcas that is dedicated to ending cetacean captivity.
“San Juan Island is the unofficial home of Blackfish,” Ventre told me via email. “Most of the interviews and footage came from the island, and the waters around it. Seeing free-ranging orcas [in 1996] radically altered my perspective regarding the morality of keeping them in marine circuses. I accepted that invitation while still working as a trainer at Sea World, and it didn’t go over well with the management. They have an interest in keeping whale and dolphin trainers in the dark. Seeing whales in Haro Strait forms the basis of our passion at Voice of the Orcas. When you see the whales foraging or congregating in a super pod, it really drives home what we’re fighting for.”
The “Blackfish effect” really kicked into high gear when it began airing on CNN and streaming on Netflix, giving millions access to the information in it.
According to a National Geographic news story, “the images and information in Blackfish (the live captures which started the industry; the physical and social stresses the animals, especially Tilikum, endure; the separation of calves from their mothers; and the aggression that occurs between killer whales and trainers) have surprised and shocked many viewers who have mostly thought of the Shamu show as lighthearted entertainment.”
After seeing the film, many celebrities began expressing their outrage on Twitter, and regular citizens began circulating petitions on Change.org asking famous musicians to cancel performances they had lined up at Sea World. Among those who canceled, either due to public pressure or after seeing the film themselves, were the Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Tricia Yearwood, Heart, and more.
Sea World refused to be interviewed for Blackfish; yet they have since spoken out against it, calling the information false and one-sided. They have maintained that it isn’t affecting business, but attendance has fallen drastically and, earlier this month, Sea World’s CEO, Jim Atchinson, sold off 50,000 of his shares in the company.
In the end, the real measure of Blackfish’s impact will not only be whether Sea World decides to change the way it does business, but how the world looks at the relationship between humans and highly intelligent creatures like orcas.
You can decide for yourself by visiting us on San Juan Island, and taking a whale-watching tour that will show you orcas interacting with each other in their natural habitat. Our concierge at the Harrison House and Tucker House will take care of your reservations for your wildlife adventure and have vouchers awaiting your arrival. We have a great relationship with many of the tour operators on the island and will help you find the perfect outfitter for your party!
Back in the day, choosing a place to stay on your vacation was usually a last-minute decision, whether that meant pulling off the freeway when you were done driving for the day and hoping for the best or just selecting an accommodation from your stack of trusty travel guides like AAA or Lonely Planet. In these wired modern times, you probably know your hotel or inn inside and out before you even leave your home, and chances are pretty good that you turned to TripAdvisor for that knowledge.
According to a 2013 PhoCusWright study commissioned by TripAdvisor that surveyed 12,000 independent travelers around the world, 67% of them visit TripAdvisor at least a few times a month, and more than 80% read 6-12 reviews on a particular accommodation before making a decision to stay there or move on.
Not only is TripAdvisor affecting your decision of where to stay and what to do on vacation, it is ranking travel destinations. San Juan Island earned the #4 spot on TripAdvisor’s Best Islands in the U.S.
For years we have been asking our guests to write a review after their stay or dining experience. Recently, we’ve experienced the other side of the guest review game as discerning travelers. Anna Maria and Dave used the site a lot while planning their most recent vacation to Hawaii, and gained a new appreciation for how much thought and time it really takes to leave a thoughtful review. They knew that the words in their review would have a positive or negative effect on that business. Fortunately all their research led them to great businesses, so all they had to write were travel tips or glowing words of praise. It is really a very powerful concept – leaving the measure of how good your business is in the hands of those who are free to write whatever they want in a very public forum.
We respond to every email and handwritten comment form left in a guest room, whether it’s good or bad, and be honest about times when we might not have measured up to our guests’ expectations or our own standards. We are thankful for this feedback and the amazing suggestions we have received over the years, which has only made our businesses and customer service better. We also respond to the online reviews as well, embracing the new buzzword of “reputation management.” The PhoCusWright study showed that users tend to rate a business higher if they see that management has been active in responding to the reviews.
Another interesting aspect of TripAdvisor and other review sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon is that there is no gold standard by which to judge every single accommodation, restaurant or attraction. It is simply a community of people that have all experienced this place and left an account of their isolated experience. For example, think about comparing a favorable review of the modest ice cream shop in town to that of a fine dining full-service restaurant (like Coho). 5 stars at the ice cream shop might be very different than 5 stars at the gourmet restaurant. There is a lot of trust involved in using TripAdvisor, whether you’re a reviewer or a business owner. We trust our guests to leave reviews that won’t put us out of business, and you trust your fellow travelers to steer you to the best places.
Our inns and restaurant rely on TripAdvisor. Reviews entice prospective travelers to stay or dine with us. Our ranking on TripAdvisor is affected by the frequency of reviews and the scores we receive. We are humbled to our guests for awarding us the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013 for all of our businesses. We appreciate all your time and effort to write compelling and honest reviews of your stay at the Tucker House or Harrison House or your dinner at Coho Restaurant.
We give TripAdvisor five stars, and always encourage our guests to take full advantage of it! We hope that your research on TripAdvisor (and anywhere else) will lead you to stay with us next time you take a trip to San Juan Island!
We often hear a lot about the baby boomer generation, but what we’re hearing now is that they’ve got the travel bug. According to an article from NextAvenue.org, boomers spend almost $160 million every year on travel. There are several categories of travel that are becoming increasingly popular, and most of them are related to the others in some way.
Ecotourism is the number one trend right now, with more and more tourist destinations and operators striving to become greener. It’s very important to remember, though, that true ecotourism does something to benefit the local residents and environment. Ideally, that zip-lining tour was constructed in a way that doesn’t harm the forest around it. Think you might want to try zip lining? San Juan Island is a great place to start. With the friendly folks over at Zip San Juan, you can explore a deeply forested part of the island that you may otherwise never get the chance to see. They teach you all the basics, and their guides are top-notch. The course is built very naturally into the woods, and the eight zip lines set you cruising right over a lake with a family of otters and a section of protected wetlands. Almost anyone can participate, including young children.
Adventure travel is huge, especially with more and more 50+ travelers being in great shape. Getting an adrenaline rush is becoming vitally important to this group. Operators have caught on, and are starting to offer exciting packages specifically targeted to that demographic. Kayaking, cycling, hiking, and scuba diving are just some of the activities that fit snugly into the adventure category, and San Juan Island offers all of those and more. You can catch a van from the center of town and jump in a kayak for three hours or a whole day. You’ll have gorgeous rocky outcroppings soaring above you, and you’re likely to see starfish in every color of the rainbow, ancient geological formations, harbor seals lazing in the sun, and if you’re really lucky, wild orca whales as they surface beside you. If you’re more of a landlubber, you can tour the entire island on a rented bicycle, and stop for a picnic on the grassy expanse of American Camp. You’ll be five minutes from town, but you may feel as if you’ve gone back in time 200 years. And the hiking opportunities can’t be beat – try Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island, a short ferry ride away. Situated in breathtaking Moran State Park, you can hike all 2,400 feet and be rewarded with a stunning view of the entire San Juans archipelago.
Multigenerational travel is an encouraging trend, especially in a world where we’re all so dependent on our electronic devices and losing touch with human interaction. Whole families are now traveling together, from toddlers to matriarchs. At Harrison House and Tucker House, we pride ourselves on catering to all of our guests — young, old, and even four-legged — and we think we’re the perfect place to base a multigenerational vacation. Located just a couple of blocks from the center of town, we can entertain your little ones with movies and board games, and there’s always a warm cookie ready for them. Adults can relax with a good book in our sunroom or in front of a crackling fire, and there’s always the hot tub on the deck, with great views. Take your tot to the town’s toy store in the morning, and pass the afternoon tasting fresh, local wines at the nearby vineyard. There’s no shortage of age-appropriate activities for every member of your family.
Spiritual travel is another big one, and it isn’t just for those seeking nirvana. Often, it just requires going back to a simpler time by
leaving your cell phone at home and taking a long, leisurely walk by the lake. Our island is ideal for those in search of deeper meaning on their vacations. Just imagine padding through the leafy forest floor in a hiking trail near English Camp, not another person around for miles, hearing only birdsong and the soft echo of the water lapping against the shore. Visit America’s oldest privately owned Catholic church for Sunday mass at Roche Harbor, and afterwards, hike up to the mausoleum to feel the spirits of John McMillan and his family; a deeply spiritual man, he erected it in the l9th century as a memorial to the dreams and aspirations of his generation. Take a yoga class in town and make some new friends. Or, just try to experience a close encounter with a wild orca and not leave feeling bonded to nature.
Finally, more and more boomers are feeling the urge to create and accomplish a bucket list, or a list of experiences that one wants to have before death. Many people in their 50s, 60s and even beyond are just now at a time in their lives when they have the time and money to start thinking about this. San Juan Island is one of the best places around to add to your list of bucket list destinations. There’s no shortage of exciting experiences to be had here. To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of five bucket list activities to check off while you’re here. Use it as a jumping off point – there’s no limit to what you can dream!1) Go charter fishing and bring home a fresh, wild salmon for dinner – it tastes so much better if you catch it yourself! 2) Go zip lining and feel the exhilaration of that clean island air whipping past your face as you soar over gorgeous terrain. 3) Win a competitive eating contest – in this case, mouthwatering doughnuts – during the 4th of July celebration at Roche Harbor. 4) Rent a bicycle (or borrow one from us for free!) or even a fun moped for the day, and zip all around the island’s endless variety of roads to catch some stunning scenery and check out deer or rabbits! 5) Go whale-watching and experience wild orca whales as they socialize with one another, or pack a picnic and stake out a spot at Lime Kiln State Park to catch a glimpse of them right from shore.
With the advent of the Internet, planning your entire vacation down to the hour has become easy, with online check-in, competitively priced booking websites, and readily available reviews of every hotel, restaurant and activity in any given place. But no matter how much careful planning you do, there will always be something you’re missing in whatever location you’re headed to – that hole-in-the-wall pub that only locals know about, the public beach that’s a bit off the beaten path but nearly always empty, the best place to get a great photo of local wildlife. That’s why more travelers should be taking advantage of one of the most under-utilized amenities in the industry – the concierge.
To begin with, a concierge is one of the few things left that’s really free. Many upscale hotels and resorts have a full-time concierge on staff, and their services are included in the price of the room, although tipping is encouraged based on your appreciation of the service or the difficulty of the request.
Your concierge can help you book a table at a popular restaurant, get those last two spots on a busy tour, or arrange a cab to be there when you’re ready to leave. He or she can also help you celebrate a special occasion by, for example, making sure there are rose petals and a bottle of champagne in your room when you arrive to toast your anniversary. But don’t forget that this staff member can also share secrets of the place you’re staying that you would never know simply from Internet research. He or she lives there, and has gotten to know the place inside and out. The concierge can help you make the most of your trip and provide some extremely memorable ideas that might have passed you by if you hadn’t asked.
At Tucker House and Harrison House on beautiful San Juan Island, we are proud to offer these services to help you more thoroughly enjoy your stay. We can point you towards our favorite lunch café or reading spot, provide options on the best ways to get around the island, or tell you where our favorite spot to go for a summer day’s hike is. We’ll even help you demystify the ferry schedule!
We have a standard list of the best restaurants and activity operators to choose from if asked for a basic recommendation, like a good seafood place or a nice spot to watch the sunset. But our team will try to get to know you a little, so we can come up with more personal recommendations – the best whale-watching boat for a family, the most romantic restaurant for a special celebration, or the most scenic beach to just watch the world go by – even if that place isn’t necessarily on the “best-of” list. To get service catered to your interests, make sure you give us a bit of time; especially during the busy summer season, make sure to give us a call before you arrive so we can suggest ideas for your itinerary. Once we have things finalized, we will take care of all the bookings and have vouchers awaiting your arrival in your guest room. With a bit of advanced planning, we can be sure to offer our guests our best, even during the height of the season.
Anna Maria and Dave, your innkeepers, learned a valuable lesson about the advantages of a concierge during their recent Hawaiian getaway. Anna Maria recalled their experience for me.
“Since we are in the business, we consider ourselves independent travelers. We do all of our own research and book all the aspects of our trip. This year, by the time we finally got to Hawaii we ran out of steam to organize what we should do. We were overwhelmed with all the choices in the tourist literature and online. Out of desperation, I called the concierge desk and spoke to Suzie. As soon as I started speaking with her and hearing her breadth of knowledge, I trusted her recommendation knowing we were in good hands.
Without hesitation, she recommended that we take the Na Pali Boat tour the next morning as she knew we had a small weather window to do this trip. She explained the boat trip goes up and down the coast and then crosses to Niihau, where we would dive. I was in disbelief and asked her to repeat the itinerary. This tour was on our bucket list for another visit, as I never imagined we could have done this boat trip in January. When we boarded the boat the next morning, the crew was shocked to hear of our itinerary, as it wasn’t on their radar considering the season. Needless to say, we are so thrilled we enlisted Suzie’s help and took her advice. That trip was the highlight of our visit.”
At Tucker House and Harrison House, all of our outstanding innkeepers double as concierges, and will make sure you add something truly unique and memorable to your itinerary. So don’t run the risk of missing out on an experience that might be the one you remember forever – ask your concierge how to make your next vacation the trip of a lifetime!
Lilies on the Land charts the personal journey of four women who signed up for the endless hours of backbreaking farm work in order to do their best for the war effort. Based on 150 letters and interviews with original “land girls,” the characters come from different walks of life, all having volunteered to leave their families and the basic comforts of home behind to deal with the hardships of farming life and the pressures of war.
Featuring songs from the period, as well as Silent Night sung in German, Italian and English, the play provides a revealing, funny and moving portrait of some of Britain’s unsung heroes. Directed by Julie Laidlaw.
Get your tickets here or call 360-378-3210.
Admission: Adults $19, Students $10, RUSH $5 – March 6 is bargain night, adults $14, students $7
Dates/Times: Fri.-Sat. Feb. 28-March 1, 7:30 pm; Sun. March 2, 2 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. March 6-8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun. March 9, 2 p.m.
Location: San Juan Community Theatre, 100 2nd St. N