“We are saddened to report that three adult killer whales (orca) are missing and presumed dead as of July 1, 2019. These whales are from the extremely endangered Southern Resident killer whale population, that historically frequent the Salish Sea almost daily in summer months. Due to the scarcity of suitable Chinook salmon prey, this population of whales now rarely visit the core waters of its designated Critical Habitat: Puget Sound, Georgia Strait, and the inland reach of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The missing whales are J17, K25, and L84.
J 17 Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research
J17 is a 42-two-year-old J pod matriarch and mother of Tahlequah (J35), who carried her dead calf for an unprecedented 17 days last year. We reported that J17 was not in good body condition last winter, perhaps from stress. She is survived by two daughters and a son, J35, J53, and J44, respectively.
Also missing is 28-year-old, K25, an adult male in the prime of his life who was not in good body condition last winter. He is survived by two sisters and a brother, K20, K27, and K34, respectively.
And, lastly, 29-year-old male, L84, has been missing all summer in encounters conducted by our Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans colleagues along the west coast of Vancouver Island. L pod has not come into the Salish Sea yet this summer. L84 was the last of a matriline of eleven whales, ten of whom died previously.”
The Whale Sanctuary Project is holding a series of town meetings in Washington State to discuss the concept for a rehab/rescue facility for the endangered Southern Resident orcas, which can also serve as a retirement home for orcas retired from entertainment parks and aquariums.
The meetings will be held in Olympia, Gig Harbor, Seattle, San Juan Island, Orcas Island and Lopez Island.
A rehab/rescue facility that can also be home to orcas retired from marine parks Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project, and Charles Vinick, Executive Director, will present their vision for a 60 – 100 acre seaside sanctuary that will be a full-service veterinary and “urgent care” facility in the San Juan Islands for free-ranging orcas who live-strand or need special assistance in a controlled setting prior to being returned to their pod. In addition, the facility will house orcas who have been rescued from life in concrete tanks at marine parks and aquariums.
The team is looking forward to making a visual presentation and engaging in discussion with the local communities in the Puget Sound area to hear their input on the sanctuary idea, answer all questions, and discuss all concerns. That’s because any successful sanctuary involves a partnership between the organization creating it and the community that embraces it.
We hope everyone will come out to these meetings to meet Lori and Charles and hear about the Whale Sanctuary Project.
Town Meeting Details
Olympia – Tuesday, July 16, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Capitol Room
415 Capitol Way N
Street parking and small adjacent lot.
Gig Harbor – Wednesday, July 17, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Ocean5 – Atlantic Ocean Meeting Room
5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Parking on site.
Seattle – Thursday, July 18, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Great Hall at Green Lake LLC – Great Hall
7220 Woodlawn Ave NE
Paid underground parking below PCC Community Market (one block from venue)
San Juan Island (Friday Harbor) – Sunday, July 21, 2pm (doors open at 1:30)
Brickworks Event Center
150 Nichols St.
Plaza parking and street parking.
Orcas Island (Eastsound) – Tuesday, July 23, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Emmanuel Episcopal Church – Parish Hall
242 Main St.
Lopez Island – Wednesday, July 24, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
4102 Fisherman Bay Rd.
Parking on site.
For months, five-year-old Meri saved her allowance until she had $12 in her bank, which she planned to give to the Center for Whale Research to help save the endangered Southern Resident orcas.
While $12 is a lot of money for a kid, Meri was more focused on the joy of being able to help the hungry whales and figured that other children would love to join her.
And so it was, with the help of her parents and local author Brenda Peterson, her fundraising event raised over $2000. It included a bake sale, time for dancing and story telling, and activities for the kids.
Meri made signs and decorations for the bake sale:
The family put together educational materials:
They set up an art table for children to contribute their own thoughts and artwork:
The money will go to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington. Biologists from the US and Canada are urgently focused on saving the small population of endangered Southern Resident orcas, and are doubtless buoyed by the dedication of this little girl with a big heart.
Meri and her parents have set a model for families everywhere who want to make a difference and help return the planet to a sustainable home for us all.
In a marine protected area off of Vancouver Island, Canada, a rich ecosystem supports breeding and migrating seals and sea lions – and at least one adorable sea otter, Ollie. Southern resident killer whales pursue the adult salmon that hide among the kelp fronds, and the mammal eating transient orcas hunt the seals and sea lions.
Luckily, nothing seems interested in eating Ollie, to the relief of his fans who follow his Facebook page.
Admittedly, not everyone loves these furry machines that need a quarter of their body per day to keep warm, even with their luxurious coats. They consume over a hundred different species of primarily bottom dwelling invertebrates, but come into conflict with fishermen over the sea cucumbers, urchins, clams, abalone etc that have a fairly high market value.
When the otters move into a region they do have an impact on those fisheries, but what they give back to the environment makes them worth their weight in gold – their foraging habits quickly restore kelp beds where juvenile salmon hide on the journey to the open ocean. Each female Chinook salmon that successfully returns to spawn carries as many as 17,000 eggs, so each fish saved by adequate kelp beds can have a significant impact.
Juvenile salmon prefer to use kelp bed prefer to use kelp bed habitat over bare areas, where they swim in the middle of the canopy as they migrate. The kelp forests also provide cover for the forage fish that fuel the salmon’s journey.
In the Puget Sound and greater Salish Sea there are few otters, and the kelp forests are in trouble:
Dr. Tom Mumford, Washington Department of Natural Resources, reports that floating kelp beds have all but disappeared from southern Puget Sound. Declines are also reported generally from the Salish Sea, including British Columbia, Canada.
Because of the ecosystem functions provided by kelps, the consequences of declines to kelp beds in Puget Sound are not limited to the direct effects on kelp populations, but influence indirectly the many species that depend on the presence of these forests. (Puget Sound Restoration Fund).
Wouldn’t it be great to have the fluffy otters helping in the effort to restore kelp forests?
Where you may be able to see otters in Puget Sound:
In 2006, the distribution of the majority of the Washington sea otter stock ranged from
Pillar Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west to Cape Flattery and as far south as Cape Elizabeth
on the outer Olympic Peninsula coast. However, scattered individuals (usually one or
two individuals at a time) have been seen outside of this range.
… Sightings around the San Juan Islands, near Deception Pass, off Dumas Bay, off the Nisqually River, and in southern Puget Sound near Squaxin and Hartstene Islands have also been reported.
From the Center for Whale Research on September 13, 2018:
J50 – Missing Southern Resident killer whale is presumed dead
Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family (i.e., J16s) during these outings.
Watching J50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction. Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast. In accordance with an urgent plea by the American Fisheries Society in 2006, natural Chinook salmon runs must be restored throughout their range to avoid their extinction. We have known for twenty years that these fish, in particular, are essential to the SRKW diet. Chief Seattle was right: ‘All things are connected.’ Humans are connected, too.
In the United States, the biggest recovery of natural Chinook salmon is possible with dam-breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) – the Alternative 4 option in the Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of 2002 – the legal instrument for their continued operation after options 1-3 have now failed. The dams lose huge amounts of money for the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) and its rate-payers; they are now obsolete for all of their wished-for purposes; they kill millions of salmon and have driven them to near extinction; and, now we find that they have been largely responsible for the population decline of the Southern Resident killer whales, particularly in the coastal-feeding L pod. In the inland marine waters of Washington State, all of the pods have been negatively impacted by the extinction of once bountiful Chinook salmon runs in the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea.
In Canada, the Fraser River system stocks of natural Chinook salmon have been decimated by overfishing, pollution from mine-tailing dam failures and other mishaps involving toxic chemical spills in the river, and development of industry and agriculture in the Fraser River delta region so important to the life cycle of juvenile salmon. And that is not to mention the policy of allowing fish farms in lieu of responsible management of natural populations of salmon that has been catastrophic to the SRKW food supply in Strait of Georgia region of the Salish Sea.
The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the SRKW are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming, while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems that will ultimately make this once-productive region unlivable for all.
Not that long ago, fishermen killed Southern Resident killer whales because the whales were eating Chinook salmon…let that sink in while we explore whether killing marine mammals has ever worked in the long haul to save salmon populations.
In a few days the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, will begin its six-month bloodbath. Among the reasons that fishermen hunt down and kill dolphins is the industry’s deeply held belief that marine mammals compete for fish.
Can that happen in the Salish Sea? As disturbing as it is to think about, the answer is yes – dolphins and porpoises have no substantial protections and their “takes” are managed by NOAA.
After countless decades of the slaughter and subsequent reduced dolphin populations, Japan’s fisheries catch has spiraled down to an all-time low. Japan’s solution? They’ve added even more dolphin species to the kill list this year.
By the 1970s Japan had already driven the indigenous Japanese sea lion to extinction and to this day they continue to cull Steller sea lions annually.
Western Steller Sea Lions are listed as vulnerable in the Threatened Wildlife of Japan Red Data Book. Hattori and Yamamura (2014) reported that over 200 Steller Sea Lions were culled annually between 1960-1993 to reduce predation on commercial fish stocks.
Recent work indicates that the annual culling was then reduced to a limit of 116/year until 2010 at which time a new 5 year quota of 1,030 culled Sea Lions was imposed. This resulted in an increased annual average take (Matsuda et al. 2015).
Despite the culling, the Japanese fishing industry is on a steep decline – their catch of 12.8 million tons of fish in 1984 was down to 4.3 million tons in 2017, an all time low.
If the concept of killing off marine mammals to leave more salmon for fisheries has failed in Japan (where salmon catch declined by 27% last year), why would we assume that culling marine mammals would succeed in restoring Chinook salmon for the endangered Southern Resident orcas?
With proposals on the table to extend the killing to all pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in Puget Sound and other areas of the Salish Sea, how long will it be until demands are made to cull dolphins and porpoises as well?
Does the idea of killing one kind of marine mammal to save another make any sense whatsoever when there is no evidence that it will succeed longterm?
It may seem unthinkable, but if we allow the government to permit the killing of one marine mammal species to save another by attempting to control fish predation, it is a slippery slope to go from seals and sea lions to dolphins.
Harbor seal Photo Credit: Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge
Yet that is a solution being bandied about by special interest groups concerned with the Chinook salmon population – they want to take out sea lions and harbor seals as a quick solution to what is really a complex problem.
There may be some logic to culling if the seals and sea lions were directly eating the orcas, though even if that were the case and we decided to cull orca predators we would have to start with the most effective and damaging predator.
And that would be us.
There are living members of the Southern Resident orcas who were once shot at, harpooned, and subjected to the noise of seal bombs by fishers who resented the competition for salmon. The US Navy gunned down an entire population of fish-eating orcas in Iceland to “help” the fishing industry there.
As the Southern Resident orca population decreased in the Salish Sea due to culling (either by being killed or captured for display, similar to what goes on in Taiji), Chinook salmon still continued to dwindle. Killing the orcas didn’t bring back salmon. Nor will killing pinnipeds.
But fishing is not the only way that humans are driving the abundance and evolutionary biology of salmon – we have added evolutionary pressures by altering the environment as well.
Dams not only impede the salmon’s journey, but dramatically alter stream and river ecology. Salmon must navigate challenging hatching conditions, endure siltification of their natal streams and rivers, and withstand marginal water temperatures – then survive being flung through the dam turbines on their seaward journey.
They must escape predators that gather at the dams, and the young salmon must cope with the lake conditions present in the manmade reservoirs created by the dams (which gives a huge advantage to some of the predatory fish species and is not natural to the salmon). Finally, the young fish encounter estuaries that are often inadequate in both food and places to hide.
Research shows that the battering the young salmon take on their way to sea increases their mortality while at sea – this means that the debate over how accurate the statistics are on how many smolts initially survive the dams is a small part of the equation since they are more likely to die at sea.
Abstract.—The numbers of Snake River salmon and steelhead Oncorhynchus spp. have substantially declined since the completion of the Columbia River hydrosystem. We used analytical approaches to identify management options for halting the decline of these stocks, such as removal of Snake River dams and improvements to the existing hydrosystem. The benefits these actions are predicted to have in terms of salmon recovery hinge on whether the mortality that takes place in the estuary and early in their ocean residence is related to earlier hydrosystem experience during downstream migration. Evidence from the literature demonstrates numerous mechanisms that would explain this delayed mortality in relation to a fish’s experience passing through the hydrosystem. Spatial and temporal comparisons of stock performance provide indirect evidence of delayed mortality and evidence that delayed mortality is linked to hydrosystem experience. Recent mark— recapture data also provide evidence of differences in delayed mortality by route of passage through the hydrosystem. The different types of evidence discussed here suggest that the delayed mortality of Snake River fish is related to the hydrosystem.
On their return trip, the salmon must battle the same conditions, and again must make it past those dams, increasing the time they must spend in getting to their natal streams.
And then there are the bears…do we kill them too?
Government tends to balk when the cost of acting is high – whether that cost is in dollars, jobs, energy, or security – because it is also our government’s job to protect us and to oversee the growth of our nation in the long term. Our government tends to favor a cost/benefit analysis, and this can be detrimental when swift action is called for with respect to environmental issues, such as in taking decisive action to restore our salmon fishery.
For years Washington State has performed controlled culling of the sea lions that congregate at certain dams but only after other methods were exhausted. Now Congress has bills in the works which will allow loose control over whether the killing is humane and reduces oversight as it increases the number of animals that can be culled.
Governor Jay Inslee’s establishment of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force is an inspiring and bold move to come to terms with conflicting beliefs, and it’s possibly our last opportunity to step back, look at the big picture, and think about future generations.
The process has underscored to me how open and willing those of us who live in this region are to pitch in and look for resolution when it comes to salmon and orcas, a subject where the potential for conflict is high. Our personal lifestyles and regional self-interests are deeply challenged as we weigh the needs of the whales against our own – yet what has become clear is that we are unified in a desire to “get ‘er done”.
We seem to be on the road to solutions, the quickest of which would be to increase salmon passage on the lower Snake River dams.
But let’s leave the seals and sea lions alone.
Human ingenuity brought us the ‘salmon cannon’, designed to propel salmon over dams – but is it efficient enough to bring Chinook populations back to the levels needed for the Southern Resident orcas?
Over-fishing and management mistakes have caused biological mayhem for salmon, and if we want robust wild fish in the future we need to restore the environmental blocks to their survival. These include habitat restoration, contaminant abatement, and dams.
Salmon cannons may be a genius – if hilarious – solution for moving salmon and a good tool to help the remaining wild salmon navigate the dams, but one of the most urgent things the wild Chinook salmon – and the Southern Resident orcas that rely upon them – need is unfettered access to the native spawning grounds.
For more information please go to Damsense.org.
Trump Administration Stalls Protections as Southern Resident Killer Whale Population Drops to 76
SEATTLE— “The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal notice today pressing the Trump administration to protect ocean habitat off California, Oregon and Washington to save the last remaining Southern Resident killer whales.
Today’s notice points out that the administration has unlawfully delayed critical habitat designations sought by the Center in a 2014 petition under the Endangered Species Act.
Endangered Southern Residents live along the Pacific Coast and are starving for lack of their preferred prey, spring chinook salmon. Other threats to these orcas’ survival include oil spills, water pollution and vessel noise.
“These iconic orcas are going extinct, but the Trump administration has proposed oil leases rather than protections for their habitat,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney and marine scientist at the Center. “The Southern Residents desperately need protected foraging areas full of salmon to feed them through the winter. Without swift federal action, these whales will continue their steep slide to extinction.”
The threat of legal action comes just a week after the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission met in Seattle. Experts there warned of the crisis facing Southern Residents with a steep population decline to only 76 whales and few calves born. There were calls for urgent action, including habitat protections, to prevent their extinction.
Responding to the Center’s petition in 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service said it would expand habitat protections in 2017 to safeguard key foraging and migration areas off the West Coast. Yet the Trump administration has failed to act, despite broad public support.
“These incredible orcas should not become victims of the Trump administration’s policy of blocking science-based protections for the environment,” said Kilduff. “With extinction right around the corner, Southern Residents can’t afford to wait for help.”
Photo credit: Center for Whale Research
While spending their summers in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, areas protected as critical habitat in 2006, these killer whales travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to feed on migrating salmon. The Center petitioned in 2014 to protect areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California as critical habitat (see map).
The death of the two-year-old male orca known as “J52” in 2017 came as the population dipped from 83 in 2016 to only 76 individuals today, the biggest year-to-year decline ever recorded. The death was confirmed by the Center for Whale Research, which reported malnutrition was likely the cause.
Today’s notice, which typically precedes the filing of a lawsuit, outlines how the Fisheries Service’s failure to act on the Center’s 2014 petition violates federal law. The letter asks the agency to propose habitat protections by August 6.” Media Release.
By Kenneth C. Balcomb, Founder /Principal Investigator – Center for Whale Research
No southern resident killer whales from any of the pods have been born alive and survived thus far in 2017 – the baby boom is over…and the adults are alarmingly thin.
As of 19 September, another Southern Resident Killer Whale, J52 – a two and a half year old male born during the so-called Baby Boom of 2015/2016 – is deceased, presumably from malnutrition.
His obligatory nursing ended more than a year ago, and his life was dependent upon salmon that have become in short supply this summer.
He was last seen alive near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 15 September 2017, and photographs taken at the time reveal severe “peanut-head” syndrome associated with impending death.
This population cannot survive without food year-round – individuals metabolize their toxic blubber and body fats when they do not get enough to eat to sustain their bodies and their babies.
All indications (population number, foraging spread, days of occurrence in the Salish Sea, body condition, and live birth rate/neonate survival) are pointing toward a predator population that is prey limited and non-viable.
We know that the SRKW population-sustaining prey species is Chinook salmon, but resource managers hope that they find something else to eat for survival.
Our government systems, steeped in short-term competing financial motives, are processing these whales and the salmon on which they depend to extinction.
If something isn’t done to enhance the SRKW prey availability almost immediately (it takes a few years for a Chinook salmon to mature and reproduce, and it takes about twelve years for a female SRKW to mature and reproduce), extinction of this charismatic resident population of killer whales is inevitable in the calculable future.
Most PVA’s (population viability analyses) with current predator/prey trajectories show functional extinction as a result of no viable reproduction within decades to a century.
Young J52 was accompanied by his mother (seventeen and a half year old, J36) and an adult male (twenty-six year old L85, potentially his father) at least five miles away from the other members of J and L pods that were foraging within a mile or two of the coastline from Camper Creek to Bonilla Point west of Port Renfrew, British Columbia.
The observation of this sad event was at sunset, and the young whale appeared very lethargic while barely surfacing as the two adults were swimming around in circles and not feeding while attentive to the young whale.
We estimated J52 was within hours, if not minutes, of death at the time, and he was not present during the J pod foray into Puget Sound on 19 September, though his mother and L85 were.
The mother did not appear overly emaciated on either occasion, but she is lean and seems distressed.
Yes, these animals do exhibit emotion, and death of an offspring brings it on.
It is worthy of note that all of the SRKW observed this summer appear skinny and small compared to Bigg’s Transient killer whales in the Salish Sea that have abundant prey resources (seals and other marine mammals).
Timing of food availability is everything, especially in critical phases of growth or gestation.
Three of the six whales born in J pod during the so-called Baby Boom, which began in December 2014 with the birth of J50, have now died; and, two mothers (J14, J28) and a great-grandmother (J2) in the pod have also died.
No fish, no blackfish.
By Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.