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Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to come face-to-face with a giant orca? If that moment ever happened, what would you do? How do you think you’d feel?

Thanks to photographer Joshua Barton, we no longer have to wonder. He captured the incredible gaze of an orca in this beautiful photograph:

According to a Facebook post from Orca Project Sri Lanka, the encounter went like this: “As Joshua gently entered the water 100m away the orcas began to approach in curiosity, swimming right under the boat. A singular adult female came in for a much a closer look, approaching Joshua within a few feet, inquisitively gazing up at him before arching underneath. This was a truly mutual encounter, two beings from different worlds brought together in a moment of shared curiosity.”

And this is the way we believe all our interactions should happen with marine life – from the other side of a glass wall or at a marine park. As you can instantly tell from the photo, whales are intelligent, emotional, and downright fascinating. The brain of the orca is four times larger than the human brain, weighing in at 12 pounds. Their brains have been evolving for millions of years, while modern-day humans first emerged about 200,000 years ago, it is safe to assume that their cognitive development is at least as advanced as ours – if not considerably more so! And with complex familial and social relationships, we can gather that these creatures are highly self-aware, adaptable, and intelligent.

Moreover, orcas are highly social animals. They live in tight matrilineal pods, composed of grandmothers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They typically choose to remain with their immediate family group for the rest of their lives. So you can imagine the damage done to orcas when they’re cruelly torn from their natural habitat and relegated to a life spent in captivity.

This is a highly traumatizing experience for this sensitive beings. Throughout their lives in captivity, orcas display zoochotic (psychotic) behaviors, similar to symptoms of prison neurosis. Some stereotypic behaviors include swimming in circles repetitively, establishing pecking orders, and lying motionless at the surface or on the aquarium floor for relatively long periods of time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. This orca’s gaze tells you all you need to know that they deserve to be free. To join the fights, here’s what you can do:

Image Source: Joshua Barton/Facebook