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Orcas, their human friend, and the autistic boy they healed

Roberto Bubas is an Argentine wildlife ranger who grew up admiring Jacques Cousteau, the French marine researcher who travelled the seven seas in his mythical boat, the Calypso. When he came of age, Bubas studied marine biology in Puerto Madryn, in southern Argentina, and went on to work in Valdés Peninsula.

This part of Patagonia on the Atlantic coast is flat and desert, if you omit to count the rich wildlife, from varieties of penguins to whales. Enthralled by them, Bubas started approaching them. Most extraordinarily, he developed a friendship with the orcas, which humans —look who’s talking— call “killer whales.”

These gigantic sea mammals engaged him. One day, an orca brought him a punch of algae. He reacted the way pet owners do when their dog brings them a ball or a bone. They throw it away so the dog brings it back. The orca did the same. She was playing with Bubas. And they have let him approach them for decades. By now he knows at least three generations of orcas. Those include the very little ones when he began his research work 25 years ago and that now are moms themselves.

Then a second miracle happened. Thousands of kilometers away, a 9-year-old boy who had never spoken up to that moment started to pat the TV screen, exclaiming “Me! Me!”, pointing to Bubas and the orcas in a documentary about the biologist’s work with the whales. Agustín’s stunned parents took him to Valdés Peninsula. Bubas wrote a book based on that story, “Agustín Open Heart,” now becoming a movie.

Agustín, the boy that had been diagnosed with autism, is now 19, is an artist, attends university and has a girlfriend. Asked about this boy’s recovery, Bubas says that perhaps it wasn’t him that had a condition, but that the world is ill. Indeed. Perhaps there is a case of collective autism that prevents us from knowing the world we live in.