The Orca Connection

orca.kitsapThe 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. To save the orcas, do we need to demolish dams?

orca.kitsapSunday 15, November 2015
By Daniel Jack Chasan  

The show is over — at least it’s almost over. SeaWorld has announced that next year, it will phase out its killer whale performances in San Diego. The theme park has been under fire — and, perhaps more importantly, losing visitors — ever since the 2013 movie Blackfish documented its abusive treatment of captive killer whales.

But the whales – endangered Puget Sound orcas, if you prefer – need more than just to be freed from captivity. Not surprisingly, they need to eat.

Specifically, they need chinook salmon, says Carl Safina, a former National Audubon Society vice-president for marine conservation who hosted the PBS series entitled Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina. And in order to get more threatened, endangered and otherwise diminished chinook into the water, he says, we’ll need to breach the four lower Snake River Dams.

* * *

Safina laid all this out one night last month at the Seattle Aquarium, where he was the keynote speaker at an unveiling of the Orca-Salmon Alliance, a coalition of regional and national environmental groups formed to “prevent the extinction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales by recovering the wild Chinook populations upon which the whales depend.” Member groups include Earthjustice, Save Our Wild Salmon, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Daily Astorian Editorial: Orcas growing factor in Columbia River salmon management

orca.drone1October 26, 2015
An unfortunate fact of life for orcas — and everything else that relies on salmon — is that runs fluctuate.
Iconic Northwest species enters our waters

There was fascinating news last week about southern resident killer whales that have an extensive connection to the Columbia River. These scientific findings could have a major impact on salmon management and the hydroelectric system.

For many years there were occasional reports of orcas being seen by fishermen working offshore in the Columbia River plume. Starting in 2013, a satellite-tracking program showed how they also range up and down the outer coast. They appear to bide their time, waiting for returning Chinook salmon to begin congregating near the Columbia’s mouth.

Last week’s most attention-grabbing orca news involved a different new technology — use of a camera drone this fall to conduct a thorough survey of the J, K and L pods in Washington’s Puget Sound. Photos reveal the orcas’ everyday behavior, without the drone appearing to disturb them in any way. The 82 famous killer whales are doing very well, with new 2015 calves fattening and additional females showing signs of pregnancy. This is extraordinarily promising news for animals that are counted among the eight most endangered species in the U.S.


KOMO TV: Interview with Dr. Carl Safina on the Orca-Salmon Connection and his book "Beyond Words" copyWhen Dr. Safina visited the Pacific Northwest in early October 2015 to discuss his book "Beyond Words" and present the keynote presentation at the Orca-Salmon Alliance's event at the the Seattle Aquarium - " Intertwined Fates: The Orca-Salmon Connection in the Northwest", he also visited a number of media outlets.

Here is a link to his interview with KOMO-TV on the morning of October 7.  Below is the partial transcript from the interview; Watch the entire interview here.


CAYLE THOMPSON: The orcas we often see in parts of the Puget Sound are very near and dear to us here in the Northwest, so are our salmon populations.

Tonight, for one night only, at the Seattle Aquarium you have a chance to hear from several leading experts in the conservation of the Southern Resident orcas and Chinook salmon. We are very pleased to be joined this morning by author Dr. Carl Safina – welcome.


Seattle Times: Puget Sound’s killer whales looking good     

orca.drone copyThe J, K, and L pods of southern-resident killer whales appear to be in robust health, new photographs show, and several appear to be pregnant, scientists say.

By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter

Puget Sound’s most celebrated residents — the J, K, and L pods of southern-resident killer whales — are looking good.

The 82 endangered whales are fat and sleek, and several appear to be pregnant. The news was revealed by photogrammetry <> : measurements made from photographs that help scientists understand the health of whales and other wildlife.

In the case of the orcas, photos and videos taken this summer using a drone about the size of a large pizza reveal the animals are looking robust.

The information is particularly important as a warm El Niño climate pattern sets up along the West Coast, which could lead to declines in salmon runs, especially chinook, the preferred food of Seattle’s picky cetaceans. Other orca whales will eat seals, but not the orcas that frequent Puget Sound. They not only confine their diet mostly to salmon, but specifically the best quality, high-fat chinook.


Skagit Valley Herald: New alliance has big goals for salmon, orca recovery

skagit copyBy KIMBERLY CAUVEL @Kimberly_SVH
Oct 16, 2015
Even with Endangered Species Act protection, two iconic Salish Sea species are struggling, and a newly formed alliance is calling attention to their plight.

“It’s pretty critical that we have to do something, so let’s put the prey and predator together and let’s save them,” said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research based on San Juan Island.
The center is one of many local, national and international groups that recently formed the Orca Salmon Alliance.

Orca Network Director Howard Garrett said the Orca Salmon Alliance’s goal is to restore enough salmon to sustain the endangered southern resident orcas.

Alliance members shared their mission with the public for the first time at the Seattle Aquarium last week, with an Oct. 7 event called Intertwined Fates: The Orca-Salmon Connection.


Patagonia's The Cleanest Line: Save Money, Save Salmon, Save Mike: Free the Snake

orca eating salmon CFWRAugust 21, 2015

By Steve Hawley

Meet Mike. He’s 21 years old, 20 feet long, weighs about 10,000 pounds. He speaks a language that was taught to him by his elders: a series of squeaks, clicks and squeals that allow him to coordinate hunting strategies with his clan. His species is the apex predator in the eastern Pacific. He also babysits.

Mike is often seen protectively swimming alongside his younger siblings, part of a group of 80 orcas known as the Southern Residents that spend their summers fishing in the vicinity of Puget Sound. But over the past decade the babysitting gigs have been too few and far between. Not enough young orcas are making it through pregnancy, birth and into adolescence. Toxicity is a problem, as it is for all the world’s large marine mammals. But lack of food—Chinook salmon—is a death sentence. Acknowledging as much, NOAA put Mike and the rest of the Southern Residents on the Endangered Species list in 2005.


More Articles...

  1. Jun 17, 2015 - Nat Geo Guest Blog: Breach the Snake River Dams
  2. Jun 05, 2015 - The Daily Astorian: Orcas back at Columbia River as 2015 tracking ends
  3. May 21, 2015 - WDC Guest Blog: Southern Resident Orcas and the Snake River
  4. Apr 01, 2015 - Seattle Times: Orca baby boom continues with discovery of fourth calf
  5. Mar 04, 2015 - Seattle Times: Researchers tracking killer whales took this video of a new calf from the endangered orca population
  6. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Animal roundup: Baby orca leads a parade of returning species
  7. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Baby orca in the Columbia River plume this week
  8. Feb 28, 2015 - Guest Opinion: Survival of endangered orcas in the Salish Sea depends on restoring chinook
  9. Feb 24, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Whale concerns prompt dam petition
  10. Feb 20, 2015 - Kitsap Sun: K and L pods under observation as they travel south in ocean
  11. Feb 18, 2015 - Islander Weekly: Dam removal initiative finds footing in DC
  12. Dec 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling
  13. Dec 16, 2014 - CBS News: Pregnant killer whale J-32 was starving, necropsy reveals
  14. Oct 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: 7-week-old baby orca missing, presumed dead
  15. Jul 07, 2014 - KING 5 TV: Orca expert's dire warning about Puget Sound orcas
  16. Feb 03, 2014 - New study connects Puget Sound orcas and Columbia Basin salmon
  17. Jan 15, 2014 - Orca advocates, businesses and scientists call on Governor Inslee to take action to rebuild endangered chinook salmon stocks
  18. Apr 10, 2013 - Watching Our Waterways: Orca tracking project comes to an end for now
  19. Mar 05, 2013 - Revealing new data shows killer whales' affinity for the Columbia River mouth
  20. Jun 21, 2010 - June is Orca Month - Check out the new video on salmon and orcas
  21. Dec 29, 2009 - Orcas and Salmon Roundup by Howard Garrett: Will The Present Administration Act In Behalf Of Orcas And Salmon?
  22. Dec 01, 2009 - "Commercial Fisheries, Salmon, and Orcas" - by Candace Calloway Whiting in the Seattle PI's City Brights
  23. Nov 17, 2009 - "River of Renewal"- Salmon, Dams, Orcas, and You
  24. Jun 10, 2009 - Orca Awareness Month
  25. Mar 03, 2009 - Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales
  26. May 02, 2008 - Seattle Times Guest columnists: Connect the dots to save orcas, salmon
Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.

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