Former Gov. Dan Evans, Washington state Attorney General Slade Gorton and Secretary of State Ralph Munro worked to end something that "just didn't seem right, like ... seeing someone kicking a dog."

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Three leaders in Washington state history weighed last week on what it took to shut down orca captures in Washington waters, and how best to help the endangered whales today.

Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Dan Evans; former U.S. Sen. and Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton; and former Secretary of State Ralph Munro met at The Seattle Times for a Facebook Live event in which they reflected on the capture era, and the plight of the orcas today.

Reporter Lynda Mapes sat down for a panel discussion with three key state officials, Gov. Dan Evans, State Attorney General Slade Gorton and Ralph Munro, to discuss shutting down orca captures forever.

“He was the catalyst,” Gorton said of Munro, who was a staff aide to Gov. Evans when all heck broke loose on Budd Inlet, in March, 1976, near the state capitol: an orca hunt was underway.

Munro, sailing the inlet at the time, was appalled to watch as orcas fled firecrackers, aircraft and speedboats. “It just didn’t seem right,” Munro said. “Like going down the street, and seeing someone kicking a dog.”

While there was a federal permit allowing the hunt, the captures were supposed to be humane. And what he was watching was anything but, Munro said. Gorton got the wheels turning on a federal-court case to stop the hunt. “We decided to use our imagination, is there some way we can get to court to end this,” Gorton said. He told Munro to get to his office. He’d have lawyers waiting.

Evans said Munro then tracked him down — while he was skiing with his wife Nancy on a bluebird day in Utah. “The sun was out, the powder snow … but that ended skiing for the day,” Evans said. He spent the remainder of the day on the phone.

The rest was history, not only as the saying goes, but actually, as the three worked to get a settlement in federal court under which orcas could never again be captured in Washington waters by SeaWorld, the customer for the Budd Inlet whales. The Budd Inlet whales captured also were released.

Evans noted the historic context of the captures, which, actually were a turnaround in human and orca relations in a state where the whales once were thought of as vicious killers, and shot at.

Ted Griffin was greeted as a hero when he brought Namu, the world’s first live performing killer whale, to Seattle. Seeing orcas up close in captivity brought a new understanding of the orcas that led to their protection.

There were only 71 southern residents left by the time the three, working with many others, ended the capture era in Washington state. About 50 whales were sent to aquariums around the world. Of the southern residents captured, all are dead today but one: Lolita, still in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium.

The southern residents battled their way back to a high of 98 whales in 1995, but have been in decline ever since. There are only 74 left.

All three Republicans would go on from those days to higher office and lead Washington for decades. In their years of public service, they helped lead a generation of Washingtonians in cleaning up Washington waters; establishing new wilderness areas, and working to protect and conserve habitat.

In their time, one thing each has learned is to listen to protesters, “that person that’s out there in front,” Munro said. “You might think their ideas are a little off center, a little off beam, a little off balance, but you might find as time goes by, they have a story to tell you.”

As for saving the orcas? Their advice, learned in their years in office, Gorton said, is that it will take a broad approach.

“People are looking for easy answers,” Munro said.