The Orca Connection
The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) of Washington State's Puget Sound amd Salish Sea are a critical part of the Northwest ecosystem and economy. They are apex predators, much-loved icons of Washington State that generate tens of millions in tourism dollars every year. They are also officially "endangered" and face severe threats to their survival. A top problem for the SRKWs is a lack of an adequate prey base - chinook salmon.
Despite having learned much about these imperiled whales in the last decade, NOAA has made precious little actual progress to meet their essential needs. The Columbia Basin — and the Snake River watershed in particular — that holds the greatest promise for restoring significant numbers of chinook in the near-term. For this reason, orca scientists and advocates increasingly support calls to remove the four costly lower Snake River dams.
No other Northwest chinook restoration proposal offers such potential. Investing in a healthy, free-flowing lower Snake River will restore salmon’s spawning access to more than 5,500 high-quality river and stream miles and produce hundreds of thousands more chinook to help southern resident killer whales survive and rebuild. Save Our wild Salmon looks forward to the opportunity to work with the people of Washington State and beyond to craft a plan that restores the Snake River and serves orcas, salmon and our communities on both sides of the Cascades.
Read the articles and posts for additional information on how these two critical Northwest species are connected.
Hawaii Magazine, Coastal Science and Societies: What Happens When an Endangered Whale Pod Loses its Wise Old Grandma?
With the death of Granny, the matriarch of the northeast Pacific’s southern resident killer whales, a century’s worth of knowledge and leadership is lost as well.
by Elin Kelsey
Published January 25, 2017
In late December 2016, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in Washington State announced that the world’s oldest-known killer whale had died. Granny, or J2 as she is known in the whale research community, had not been seen since mid-October and her absence from her close-knit community led researchers to declare her dead. She was estimated to be 105, extremely old for any mammal.
Granny was the matriarch and most famous of the southern resident killer whales—an extended family of 78 whales in three pods: J, K, and L. In recent years, she was swimming in the lead of J pod virtually every time she was seen. The question of who will assume her leadership position holds more than just common interest: studies show that killer whale matriarchs play a crucial role in the cohesion and survival of their communities. “In killer whales, these old females are very important,” says Hal Whitehead, an expert in the study of whale cultures at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This complex social structure is also relatively unheard of. “To have these social systems where elderly, postmenopausal matriarchs have a vital role in the lives of their family members is very rare,” says Whitehead.
Tri-Cities Herard Letter to the Editor: On orcas, ask an expert
December 28, 2016
A guest opinion recently challenged the notion that starving orcas would benefit from dam removal, which scientists say will bolster dwindling salmon populations. Pasco City Planner Dave McDonald writes, “The Columbia/Snake River system is not connected to that habitat favored by the orcas.”
That’s just not true, but then again Mr. McDonald isn’t an expert on orcas. Instead let’s look to Dr. Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, for a fact-based explanation. Dr. Wasser has conducted internationally respected research on orcas for years.
In a recent press statement he said, “Early spring Columbia River Chinook are vital to the reproductive health and population growth of southern resident killer whales. They replenish the whale’s reserves after the harsh winter and sustain them until the Fraser River Chinook run peaks in late summer. Low abundance of the Columbia River run increases rates of spontaneous abortions among pregnant whales of that year.”
Historically, half the Columbia Basin’s spring Chinook were produced in habitat located above the lower Snake River dams. Removing dams would re-open access. That’s why scientists view it as the most promising tool for salmon (and orca) recovery.
Steve Hawley, Hood River, Ore.
KING5-TV: Vigils Held for Southern Resident Orcas
December 27, 2016
Three vigils across Puget Sound Tuesday night honored Southern Resident orcas as the number of whales has now dropped below 80.
After the death of J-34, recently found on the coast of British Columbia, there are only 79 Southern Residents known alive.
Four orcas in the J-pod and one orca in the L-pod died in 2016. The cause of death for J-14 is unknown. J-28 and her dependent calf J-54 also died of unknown causes, though the mother appeared emaciated before death. The necropsy for J-34 revealed the 18-year old male orca likely died of blunt force trauma caused by a boat. L-95 died due to a fungal infection likely caused by NOAA tagging.
Many whale advocates have made the Snake River dams a central point of policy efforts to save the orcas, claiming the dams have restricted Southern Resident food sources to a dire level. The whales are known mainly to eat Chinook salmon.
KOMO NEWS: Endangered southern resident orca found dead off Canadian coast
by KOMO Staff, December 21, 2016
The Southern Resident Orca known as J34 was found dead on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in the Sunshine Coast area, about 30 miles north of Vancouver, B.C. (Photo: CTV)
VANCOUVER, B.C. - One of the Puget Sound's endangered southern resident orcas was found dead in Canadian waters this week.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the 18-year-old male orca, known as J34, was found on Monday floating in the water in the Sunshine Coast area, about 30 miles north of Vancouver.
"He had not yet grown to full size," said Howard Garrett from the Orca Network. "It's just very sad to see him go. He had not reached his full maturity."
The Center for Whale Research said J34 was spotted alive as recently as Dec. 7. Garrett said he was very recognizable member of the pod.
"[He was] the indicator of J-pod because he had a very distinct curve through his dorsal fin and a little notch that you could pick him out," said Garrett. "Once you saw him, you would know that the immediate family was nearby."
Crosscut.com: Oil tankers could doom Puget Sound’s orcas
By Nick Turner, December 13, 2016
Canada’s recent approval for the construction of a pipeline in British Columbia could signal big changes for killer whales in the Puget Sound.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the green light to a pipeline proposed by energy giant Kinder Morgan to transport oil from the sands fields of Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia, at a rate of 890,000 barrels a day. The problem for the orcas is that the land-based pipeline, nicknamed the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, is expected to bring a sevenfold spike in oil tanker traffic through the waters of the Salish Sea.
This carries heavy implications for local marine life, especially the orca population living in Puget Sound and along the coasts of southern British Columbia and Washington state.
Both the United States and Canada consider the orcas there to be endangered, and their declining population was causing experts to worry even before the pipeline proposal.
“Death by a thousand cuts, and this is a very deep cut,” says Deborah Giles, research director for the Center for Whale Research.
Giles explains that if the present rate of decline continues — even without the Trans Mountain Pipeline — the southern resident killer whales could die off before the end of this century.
Truthout Report: Without Major Interventions, the Orca's Days Are Numbered
By Dahr Jamail
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
No one is certain of the total number of orcas (otherwise known as "killer whales") that exist in the wild. However, estimates are now around 100,000, and populations are dwindling. In Washington State's Puget Sound and San Juan Islands, the once-large population of orcas has declined to around 80 whales, and the Puget Sound orcas are on the US government's endangered species list.
Why are the orcas disappearing? A variety of factors are in play: Loss of food supply (such as salmon), warming waters, habitat loss, pollution, Naval sonar and war gaming, and ocean acidification are some of the many factors now constellating to make life much more challenging for these iconic whales.
Some reports warn that it could already be too late to save wild orcas.
Experts Truthout spoke with on the matter warned that, without significant intervention to address these and other issues, the orcas' days may well be numbered.
- Oct 31, 2016 - KOMO News: 'It's a sad day:' Researchers claim Puget Sound orcas are starving and dying
- Oct 29, 2016 - Seattle Times: Another Puget Sound orca dies; hope dim for her calf
- Jun 25, 2016 - Crosscut.com: The orcas are starving
- Jun 06, 2016 - Orca and Salmon - An Evening of Storytelling
- Jun 02, 2016 - NRDC Blog: To Save Orcas, First Save Salmon
- Jun 02, 2016 - Defenders Magazine: Looking for a Sound Solution
- Jun 01, 2016 - Orca Month 2016 Calendar of Events
- Mar 31, 2016 - Seattle Times Guest Opinion: Hungry killer whales waiting for Columbia River salmon
- Jan 24, 2016 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound orca numbers rise fast after 30-year low in 2014
- Dec 07, 2015 - CBC: Orca baby boom: 7th calf born to endangered southern resident population
- Nov 16, 2015 - Crosscut.com: To save the orcas, do we need to demolish dams?
- Nov 06, 2015 - Huff Post: Newborn Orca 'Baby Boom' Depends Upon Our Breaching Deadbeat Dams
- Oct 28, 2015 - Daily Astorian Editorial: Orcas growing factor in Columbia River salmon management
- Oct 22, 2015 - KOMO TV: Interview with Dr. Carl Safina on the Orca-Salmon Connection
- Oct 22, 2015 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound’s killer whales looking good
- Oct 08, 2015 - Skagit Valley Herald: New alliance has big goals for salmon, orca recovery
- Aug 21, 2015 - Patagonia's The Cleanest Line: Save Money, Save Salmon, Save Mike: Free the Snake
- Jun 17, 2015 - Nat Geo Guest Blog: Breach the Snake River Dams
- Jun 05, 2015 - The Daily Astorian: Orcas back at Columbia River as 2015 tracking ends
- May 21, 2015 - WDC Guest Blog: Southern Resident Orcas and the Snake River
- Apr 01, 2015 - Seattle Times: Orca baby boom continues with discovery of fourth calf
- Mar 04, 2015 - Seattle Times: Researchers tracking killer whales took this video of a new calf from the endangered orca population
- Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Animal roundup: Baby orca leads a parade of returning species
- Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Baby orca in the Columbia River plume this week
- Feb 28, 2015 - Guest Opinion: Survival of endangered orcas in the Salish Sea depends on restoring chinook
- Feb 24, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Whale concerns prompt dam petition
- Feb 20, 2015 - Kitsap Sun: K and L pods under observation as they travel south in ocean
- Feb 18, 2015 - Islander Weekly: Dam removal initiative finds footing in DC
- Dec 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling
- Dec 16, 2014 - CBS News: Pregnant killer whale J-32 was starving, necropsy reveals
- Oct 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: 7-week-old baby orca missing, presumed dead
- Jul 07, 2014 - KING 5 TV: Orca expert's dire warning about Puget Sound orcas
- Feb 03, 2014 - New study connects Puget Sound orcas and Columbia Basin salmon
- Jan 15, 2014 - Orca advocates, businesses and scientists call on Governor Inslee to take action to rebuild endangered chinook salmon stocks
- Apr 10, 2013 - Watching Our Waterways: Orca tracking project comes to an end for now
- Mar 05, 2013 - Revealing new data shows killer whales' affinity for the Columbia River mouth
- Jun 21, 2010 - June is Orca Month - Check out the new video on salmon and orcas
- Dec 29, 2009 - Orcas and Salmon Roundup by Howard Garrett: Will The Present Administration Act In Behalf Of Orcas And Salmon?
- Dec 01, 2009 - "Commercial Fisheries, Salmon, and Orcas" - by Candace Calloway Whiting in the Seattle PI's City Brights
- Nov 17, 2009 - "River of Renewal"- Salmon, Dams, Orcas, and You
- Jun 10, 2009 - Orca Awareness Month
- Mar 03, 2009 - Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales
- May 02, 2008 - Seattle Times Guest columnists: Connect the dots to save orcas, salmon