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.
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.
KOMO News: 'It's a sad day:' Researchers claim Puget Sound orcas are starving and dying
by Matt Markovich
Friday, October 28th 2016
SEATTLE - It was funeral for a friend, nobody met personally, but had followed her life intimately.
Researchers claim, J-28, a 24-year-old resident orca, that they had watched from afar, died of malnutrition along with her calf.
Her obituary, written by long-time whale researcher Ken Balcomb, was read to a group of activists on the observation decked of Pier 66 along Seattle's waterfront on Friday.
"It's a sad day," said Balcomb. "I've been to several funerals and that's what this feels like."
"The way to save these #whales is to feed them as much as we can" says longtime orca activist #komonews
But, Balcomb's obituary had a point to it. The founder of The Center for Whale Research and other activists used the occasion to renew calls for the removal or breaching of four dams located on the lower Snake River that feed into the Columbia River.
Seattle Times: Another Puget Sound orca dies; hope dim for her calf
October 28, 2016
By Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times science reporter
One of the most easily recognized of Puget Sound’s resident killer whales has died, and her young calf will almost certainly follow — if he hasn’t perished already, biologists said Friday.
The losses would bring the population of endangered southern resident orcas to 80, among the lowest levels in decades.
“We have seen virtually no growth in this population in 20 years despite large amounts of money spent to study and recover them,” Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, wrote in an “obituary” for the two animals.
The mother whale, known as J28, was about 24 years old and in what should have been her prime breeding years. She was well-known to whale watchers because of a distinctive nick on her dorsal fin.
Photos over the past few months showed her becoming more and more emaciated, Balcomb said. By Oct. 19, she had disappeared from her family group. Her carcass has not been found, but biologists say she probably died in the Strait of Juan de Fuca earlier that week.
Crosscut.com: The orcas are starving
by David Neiwert on Friday, June 24, 2016
Vancouver photographer Mark Malleson took this photograph of the Southern Resident killer whale known as J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching while he was in the interior waters of the Salish Sea this spring. It’s a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca’s ribs appear to be protruding prominently.
That’s abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon. And so Malleson’s photo set off a number of alarm bells in the Northwest whale-watching community as it circulated on social media.
Subsequent photos taken of J-34 and his pod from a scientific drone suggested that, while the whales weren’t particularly plump, their girth was within their normal range. Nonetheless, veteran whale scientist Ken Balcomb is blunt about what he is seeing for the Southern Residents long- term: “These whales are starving,” he says. “There simply aren’t enough salmon out there for them to eat.”
Balcomb and the crew at San Juan Island’s Center for Whale Research have been observing the Southern Residents foraging this winter and spring, and the behavior has been disconcerting: The whales are much more spread out, meaning they are having to forage harder for individual fish. Many of them appear underfed, he says. It’s an especially alarming development following last year’s “baby boom,” in which nine new calves were born into the population, one of whom has apparently already vanished and is presumed dead.
ORCA & SALMON - AN EVENING OF STORYTELLING
You're invited to a very special evening of storytelling about orca and salmon by three renowned writers and storytellers from the Pacific Northwest. The evening includes a reception with excellent food and drinks. We hope that you can join us!
To help celebrate Orca Awareness Month and raise awareness and understanding about the majesty of and peril facing our iconic Sourthern Resident Killer Whales and Chinook Salmon, Save Our wild Salmon, Center for Whale Research, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defense Council are hosting a special evening featuring authors David Neiwert and Brenda Peterson, and Elwha Storyteller Roger Fernandes
Orca and Salmon - An Evening of Storytelling
Town Hall Seattle
Wednesday, June 29 at 6 pm - 9 pm
Our delicious reception will be catered by Kevin Davis / Blueacre Seafood. Beer will be provided by Fremont Brewing Company. We'll also serve wine and non-alcoholic beverages.
Tickets are $20 per person, with a $10 student, senior, limited income option available.
PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS HERE.
NRDC Blog: To Save Orcas, First Save Salmon
Southern Resident orcas face many threats in the Northwest, but giving them more salmon could remedy most of them.
May 26, 2016
Southern Resident orcas—a group of killer whales that stay close to the Pacific Northwest coast—are slumping toward extinction. There were 86 members when the population was listed as endangered in 2005. After more than a decade of government protection—or what passes as protection—there are 83 left.
Like most endangered animals, these orcas face several threats. Industrial chemicals accumulate in their bodies and inhibit reproduction. Shipping noise <https://www.nrdc.org/stories/turn-down-volume> frequently drives the whales from their habitat, preventing them from foraging, mating, and raising their young. If these were the orcas’ only problems, they could probably manage. But a dramatic dip in numbers of Chinook salmon, which make up as much as 80 percent of the Southern Residents’ diet, has intensified the impacts of pollution and ocean noise on the orca population’s growth rate. The whales simply won’t be able to recover without more salmon.
But replenishing the Chinook supply in the Pacific Northwest is much easier said than done. Dams, especially along the lower Snake River, make it nearly impossible <https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/whales-dam-problem> for the fish to complete their normal migration patterns. Climate change exacerbates the challenges of their journey, as the salmon fight to survive in the hot, slow-moving water behind the dams. Not enough wild Chinook are reaching their historical spawning grounds at the higher elevations, where the water remains within the temperature range the fish are adapted to. As a result, the upper Snake River Chinook salmon population is down more than 75 percent compared with their numbers in the pre-dam era.
- 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