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.
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.