Where Are the Whales? Where are the Salmon?

It’s painfully simple: between dams, climate change,  an over abundance of seals, and the fishing industry, there are basically no Chinook Salmon this year for the Southern Resident Pod of Orcas.

1d0cc-orca2bphoto   The highly-loved Southern Resident Pod of Orcas apparently may not be calling the Salish Sea (specifically the Puget Sound area) home anymore it seems. Their lack of prompt appearance last summer couldn’t be denied and caused some consternation. The whales showed up late and left quickly, spending most of their time on the outer coast of Vancouver Island. Instead, transient orcas from the northern reaches of the Inside Passage were more often seen. The transient pod dines more on seals which are plentiful in the area.

So what gives? It’s painfully simple: between dams, climate change,  an over abundance of seals, and the fishing industry, there are basically no Chinook Salmon this year, and Chinook are the Southern Resident Pod’s main, preferred, and greatly needed food.

If one wants to play the blame game, point first to the Lower Snake River dams  and Governor Inslee’s inability, and unwillingness, to take affirmative action in removing these dams despite that action being the most voted on as high priority by concerned citizens. The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, spearheaded by Joseph Bogaard, puts the removal of dams as an extremely high priority for saving wild salmon runs.

Indeed, even Oregon’s Bonneville Dam is a disaster for the salmon runs, which use to number in the thousands. Allowing a bit of extra water spill to “cool” the river doesn’t cut it.

Besides blaming the dams, there is no doubt that climate change has taken its toll on the Chinook, and no matter how one feels about it, climate change can no longer be denied. The Fraser River is very low (due to water withdrawal for agriculture) and it’s now too warm. The test fishery didn’t catch any Chinook in May, and only three in June. Hundreds used to be caught.

Finally, and not often considered, is the massive number of fish (including salmon) that seals and sea lions eat. Since these pinnipeds became “protected” some years ago, their numbers have exploded, and they all have healthy appetites.

3167e-SOOpc2B2Bjpeg

Of course there is the never-ending issue of plastic and chemical pollution and sewage spills that can sicken and kill all aquatic life, including whales.

Do not overlook the impact of sport and commercial fishing ventures. Ship strikes and a plethora of boaters may also be contributing factors to the whales’ demise.

The Southern Resident Pod has lived in the Puget Sound area for thousands of years. Their numbers diminished greatly decades ago, however, because of the rampant brutal  capture and sale of these magnificent creatures by uncaring, greedy, self-serving owners of  aquatic parks that tragically decimated their numbers. (Obviously, they did not believe in the Rights of Nature.) Few captured whales live beyond 30 years of age due to abuse and the stress of being held captive in a swimming pool. In their natural habitat these whales can live as long as 90 years.

One can only hope, and pray, that these much-loved whales, in their quest for food, will avoid the rapacious Japanese and Norwegian whale hunters.

dead whales copy
Wanton slaughter of whales

Too Many Predators

Between net fisheries, sports fishermen, and seals and sea lions, the

dwindling number of Southern Resident Pod of orcas wavers on the brink of extinction.

There are simply too many Chinook salmon predators for the orcas to compete with, and the Chinook is the primary food source for the Southern Resident pod. Add ship strikes, whale watching intrusiveness and toxins and the odds against another two decades of survival for the pod is a safe bet.

Net fisheries need to be abolished for the benefit and sustainability of all ocean species. These nets can be up to two miles long and collect every life form in the net’s path as it’s towed along. Most of the by-catch is thrown away – it’s already dead.

Even gill netting is catastrophic. The Columbia River, a massive river between Oregon and Washington, is a prime example. This river used to have a magnificent salmon run until a crowd of gill netters and a series of dams along with a booming population of seals has all but decimated the runs.

40 years ago seals were deemed an endangered species due to fishermen shooting them for stealing salmon. In the past 40 years the population of seals has greatly expanded. Seals can now be seen snagging salmon with insolent ease as the salmon struggle to climb the stupid fish ladders at the dam to return to their spawning grounds. If they manage to make it up the Bonneville dam ladder, they have four Snake River dams still to go.

Sports fishermen have taken their fair share of Chinook also, although both Washington State and Canada curtailed the salmon sport fishing season this year (2019). It should have been suspended for several years.

This year San Juan Islanders were bemoaning the fact that the orcas had only showed up twice. News came that the whales were staying on the outside of Vancouver Island where it was reported that there were more salmon and a lot less boat traffic to contend with.

The orcas need to stay there. If they return to Puget Sound and the Salish Sea they will only be starved and pestered to death.

Governor Inslee has apparently given up his quest for the White House. He needs to get back to his job. If the orcas die off on his watch it will be the end of his political life for certain. A sad, inexcusable legacy.