It may seem obvious, but orcas (especially the Southern Resident Killer Whales in Puget Sound and other inland marine waters of Washington and British Columbia) eat a lot of fish. And salmon comprise a large part of their diet. With many species of salmon threatened, and the orcas endangered, there is a lot of debate about how best to address this issue. Orcas are a major source of tourism dollars for the Northwest, which makes this about more than preserving two critical species of our ecosystem – it’s also about enhancing our regional economy.
A draft report was released in May by an independent scientific review panel assessing options for how to handle the complex issue of the effects of salmon fishing on orcas. The solution, it turns out, is not as complex is it may appear. While some may argue that we should further limit already drastically reduced salmon fishing (and thus hurt salmon jobs), the report finds it doubtful that that reduced fishing would have much impact on the health and success of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). Instead, the report concludes that “promoting salmon recovery is vital to long-term persistence of SRKW.”
In other words, rather than be distracted by the marginal impacts of ocean fishing or sightseeing vessels on SRKW, we should instead be focusing our efforts on increasing the amount of salmon available to orcas in the first place. (See the comments submitted by SOS on that draft report here.)
We must do more to restore the salmon runs that maintain our majestic orcas – and that means sitting down together and assessing the best available science and all options to create solutions not just for salmon, and not just for orcas, but for our economy as well.
Watch our 2009 video featuring Ken Balcombe of the Whale Research Center on the connection between orcas and salmon: