On the Northwest Coast the Killer Whale, also referred to as blackfish, is an important crest figure among local First Nations Groups and is one of the most commonly depicted forms. The very first Killer Whales came into being when carved in wood by a human, Raven, or a Master Carpenter and then magically infused with a life force. Killer Whales are known to capsize canoes and carry the occupants into the depths. In many of these stories the kidnapped human is given great wealth. Killer Whales are also known to guide people to safety when caught in stormy weather.
Killer Whales are widely recognized as clan ancestors and are found in shamanic story, and crest art. Killer Whales are also seen to be reincarnations of past chiefs and when a chief dies a Killer Whale comes to shore to take the chief’s spirit. Killer Whales are an important symbol of family and longevity.
From “Understanding Northwest Coast Art” by Cheryl Shearar:
People consider Killer Whale to be closely related to humans and also to Wolf. Wolf and Killer Whale are both admired for their hunting skill, strength, intelligence and devotion. Killer Whale is sometimes called wolf of the sea. According to some myths, the first Killer Whale was a supernatural, white furred wolf who entered the sea and transformed. Alternately, a Killer Whale may beach itself and take on the appearance of a wolf in order to wonder the earth, the two beings are physical manifestations of one spirit being or essence
All along the coast, fishers and hunters often applied Killer Whale designs to their canoes and other paraphernalia. Killer Whale depictions may include a human figure, clinging to the dorsal fin as a whale moves through the water. A number of different myths from various regions may be alluded to with such an image. Often, Killer Whale is shown grasped in Thunderbird’s talons. Less commonly, Eagle is the captor.