Podcast | The wayward whale that foretold decades of exploitation

People flocked to see a young orca lost in a river near Portland. Then she was killed, pickled and left in a tank on a mountainside.

Archival image of a man with his hand on an orca in the water

Ethelbert shortly after being killed by Edward Lessard, 1931. (Courtesy Oregon Historical Society)

Few animals have captured the imagination of human beings the way that orcas have. For decades people have paid money to see them, scientists have studied them intently and, in the Seattle area, concerned news consumers have tracked their every move.

At the start of the 1930s, though, there wasn’t yet a market for whale-watching. Enter Ethelbert, a young 11-foot-long female orca who appeared in a place she was not expected: the Columbia River, 100 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean near Portland.

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In a recent episode of our Mossback’s Northwest video series, Knute Berger tells the story of Ethelbert, from the carnival-like atmosphere that grew up around her unlikely appearance to her tragic end, pickled in a steel tank on the side of a Washington mountain.

But there is more to the story. For this episode of the Mossback podcast, Berger joins co-host Stephen Hegg to discuss Ethelbert’s brief fame and how her fate foreshadowed the curiosity and industrial-level exploitation that humanity would inflict on her species.

Before listening, we suggest you watch the Mossback's Northwest episode about Ethelbert here.

About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.