Islander will tell of humor, heartbreak in decades of work with sea animals

Tag Gornall - Courtesy Photo
Tag Gornall
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Islander Tag Gornall says you can’t tell there’s an up until you’ve experienced the down. He has experienced both during his decades-long career as a marine mammal veterinarian, and he’ll share both this Sunday as the next speaker in Vashon Community Care’s Telling Stories series.

On Vashon Gornall is perhaps best known as a volunteer, a green energy proponent and, during the holidays, an Island Elf. But as a retired veterinarian, he is also one of the world’s foremost marine mammal experts.

Gornall’s 35-year career as a marine biologist and marine mammal veterinarian has taken him around the world studying aquatic animals, designing aquariums, consulting with government agencies and even working with movie makers. He worked with the first orca in captivity, helped otters affected by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, consulted on the set of “Free Willy 2” and was even called Seattle’s Whale Doctor. Gornall’s career is especially noteworthy in the Puget Sound region, where he has worked closely with the Seattle Aquarium and consulted at the Point Defiance Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo.

A sign language interpreter will translate Gornall’s talk on Sunday. Gornall said reaching out to the deaf community is important to him, as he grew up with two deaf parents.

“I would like to welcome them in,” he said. “This has been my whole life, in this community.”

He believes being raised by deaf parents may have affected his work with animals, as he learned to not always rely on spoken cues.

“I think it taught me to pick up on things that perhaps a hearing person would not,” he said.

Gornall said that in preparation for his talk he has been poring over old photos and notes, an act that has reminded him of some of the best and saddest times in his work with whales, otters, gorillas, polar bears and other animals.

“It’s brought a lot of the funny times back and a lot of the heartbreak back, and I want to share a little bit of both,” he said.

Gornall said the stories of his vast experiences will also demonstrate his belief that the most interesting animal of all is the human.

“I can often predict what an animal will do, but humans are always a moving target,” he said.


Tag Gornall will speak as part of VCC’s Telling Stories series at 4 p.m. Sunday at Bethel Church. Ticket sales are by donation at Vashon Bookshop and VCC. All proceeds benefit VCC.



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