What you can do to help Southern Resident killer whales - Salish Current
May 23, 2024
What you can do to help Southern Resident killer whales
Shaw Sandstrom

Endangered Southern Resident killer whales feed on a variety of chinook and other salmon. When stocks throughout their range are reduced, whales are undernourished — just one of several existential threats the whales face. (NOAA)

May 23, 2024
What you can do to help Southern Resident killer whales
Shaw Sandstrom

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Commentary: If things don’t change, our Southern Resident killer whales are predicted to go extinct by 2050.

I am a senior at Spring Street International School in Friday Harbor. 

Having lived in the San Juan Islands since I was old enough to walk, I know firsthand the integral role that the Southern Resident killer whales play in our local marine ecosystem and the effect that they have on Washington’s marine waters. Due to a decrease in their main food source, the chinook salmon, their populations are suffering a decline.

Malnourishment and stillbirths are becoming sorrowfully common, and if this trend continues it would be detrimental to our entire ecosystem. There are only 75 Southern Resident killer whales remaining and, if change doesn’t happen, they are predicted to go extinct by 2050. Seventy-five percent of resident orca pregnancies fail and, of those that are successful, only 42% of babies survive.

This is why I am writing to you — to urge you to do what you can as a resident of the Salish Sea region and Washington state to help.

• The first thing you can do is educate yourself and those around you. A mighty voice for the Southern Resident orcas is a grassroots effort. The more people who become informed, involved and speak up, the better chance the orcas have of living another day. I encourage you to follow along with conservation efforts on social media like Facebook and Instagram, and to read about the history and behaviors of these creatures.

• The second thing you can do is volunteer with local and global organizations that are working to help. Orca Conservancy and other organizations offer many volunteer opportunities, such as salmon habitat restoration, water temperature testing and boater education.

• The third thing you can do is speak up. I encourage you to write to Sen. Maria Cantwell and Gov. Jay Inslee and urge them to support the removal of the Lower Snake River Dams. As of December 2023, the Biden administration has already shown their support for the removal of the dams, yet no action is being taken. The removal of several other dams in the Western United States, such as those on the Elwha River here in Washington, have proven that, while the recovery is slow, salmon populations are able to recuperate. 

Just this year, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was able to have a small tribal subsistence catch on a free-flowing river for the first time in 112 years. Likewise, this year in California the largest dam removal in history has begun on the Klamath River in California, and Columbia Basin tribes are hopeful that with the new initiative in place, salmon can rebound on the Snake River as well.

• The fourth thing you can do is support reputable whale-watching companies that follow the proper guidelines and, if you see someone who is not following these guidelines, to report them. Make sure to research the company you’re whale watching with beforehand and, if you are going out in your own boat or a friend’s boat, try to do some research on the proper whale watching guidelines prior to setting sail. 

The closest boats are allowed to get to the residents is 1,000 yards, and if you see someone getting too close, you should photograph their boat and report them to the NOAA Enforcement Hotline (800-853-1964) or go online to file a report.

For further information, visit these organizations websites:

Thank you for your support.

— By Shaw Sandstrom

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