Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Whale Page # 4 form the San Juan Journal

Every August we do a special informational page in the local paper,
the San Juan Journal, all about the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. This year, Director Ken Baclomb is the author. We thought we would share them with all of you who don't have access to the San Juan Journal!
This is the fourth and last installment:
L94 pushing a salmon on her head-2004

What shall we do for recovery of our local Orca?

This is a question that deserves some deep soul searching. There is no doubt that our beloved local Orcas – SRKW’s aka southern resident killer whales – are at risk of extinction in this century if things keep going the way they are. Since the first installment of these 2013 Whale Pages less than one month ago, one more local Orca whale has gone missing and will soon be presumed dead. The SRKW population count will then be down to 81, and we can only hope that there will be a birth or two this autumn/winter for replacement. However, the total number of whales in this beleaguered population is not as relevant as the number of breeding age whales and the success rate of their reproduction. It takes twelve to twenty or more years for a baby whale to grow up and become a member of the breeding population. Females mature in their teens, but males seem to require longer before contributing to the gene pool – twenty to forty year olds father a disproportionate number of babies. And, then the babies have to survive. There are only 24 females and 8 males currently in their prime breeding years, and offspring survival has not been very good in recent years due to a variety of causes. We used to calculate that female SRKW’s would have an average 5.35 viable calves in a 25.2 year reproductive lifespan, but the rate is much less than that now. Additionally, it is sobering to note that all but one of the males born in the 1980’s is now dead. Six surviving females born in that decade have produced only seven calves, and six of these are male. What went on then? And, what is still going on?

The 1980’s saw an overall abundance of Age 3-5 year old Chinook salmon in the inland waters of the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait, Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound) of 3.5 million fish early in the decade reduced to 1.5 million by the end of the decade. In the recent two decades this number has varied between one million and two million 3-5 year old Chinook salmon estimated (FRAM model, statistical estimate based upon fisheries and escapements) in the Salish Sea system. The SRKW population was recovering from captures during this same timeframe, and reached nearly 100 whales by 1995; and, then they rapidly “crashed” to 80 whales by 2001, with the decline driven by mortalities. Chinook abundance modeled for this latter time period of SRKW decline was 1 to 1.5 million 3-5 year-olds in the Salish Sea. The food requirement for 100 SRKW’s is at least 600,000 of these fish per year, so clearly there was opportunity for Human competition for this resource. And, there remains opportunity for enlightened Human management of activities affecting Chinook abundance, for fisheries, whale recovery and ecosystem requirements (nutrients for the forest, etc.).

It is obvious that we should support Chinook salmon recovery in the Salish Sea as much as possible if we would like to see the SRKW population recover and frequent the waters around our islands. These whales will swim a thousand miles to find their food, and we know that they will eat some other fish to survive, just barely. This summer should serve as a “wake-up” that our “resident” whales will simply take up residence elsewhere, or keep moving from here to elsewhere in search of a suitable food supply. We can watch “transient” killer whales, and minke whales, humpback whales, etc.; but, the “resident” Orca provide the indicator of the health of the local ecosystem that we all depend upon. Lets keep them around.

By reading to this point, you have begun to answer the question “What shall we do?”: Inform yourself by finding out what is going on in with issues that affect the health of our local ecosystem. Hint: coal mining and transport, CO2  emissions and climate change, persistent organic pollutants (POP’s), and marine development are among the issues. Then, do what you can at home and in your daily life to tread lightly on what you call your environment.

Ken Balcomb
Center for Whale Research

Some Tips on How to Make your home ‘Orca Safe’

Limit your water consumption:
           •Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
           • Limit showers to 5 minutes per day.

Reduce electrical consumption:
           • Set home thermostats for 68 degrees or less. Less electrical consumption means more water for salmon, the orcas’ favorite meal.
           • Turn down your hot water heater.
           • Unplug all rarely used items and switch off all unused lights.

Reach for unbleached:
            • Look for paper products whitened with oxygen instead of chlorine and/or products that contain the most post-consumer content.

Reuse and Recycle:
             • Put paper towels out of reach; use a sponge or reusable wash rag.
             • Reuse paper grocery sacks or use cloth bags.
             • Avoid extra packaging.

Buy local and/or organic:
              • Concentrate your shopping dollars on buying as much local and/or organic food as possible.    

Limit pesticide Use:
               • Fertilizers reduce fish habitat by encouraging the growth of plants that then deplete oxygen for fish such as salmon.
               • Pay attention to the chemicals used in cleaning solutions: phosphates used in many cleaning supplies encourage plant growth, which use up the oxygen fish need. Protecting salmon habitat is as important for the whales as it is for the salmon!

Swim the extra mile:
                 • Can you walk or ride a bike instead of drive? How about carpooling?

Check out www.whaleresearch.com, where you can order this year’s ‘Orca Survey: a Naturalists Family Tree Guide to the Orca Whales of the Southern Resident Community”. 

To learn more about killer whales in the Northwest and around the world and how you can help visit these websites (The following list of websites may provide additional information to the reader, but they should not necessarily be taken as endorsement by the author) 






















  1. Thank you for reminding me of the environmental concerns that affects us all. Although I currently live in a desert environment water and power consumption as well as other things I can do will have an impact on us all. I pray for our whales, and our planet , and I try to do my share. thank you for all you do....

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Candace Calloway Whiting