How to Help Our Whales

We are heartbroken to learn that our local orcas are suffering, and that some will die of starvation soon save a miracle. The Centre for Whale Research in Washington State said one of the starving whales is a 42-year-old female (known as J17), the grandmother of the group.

“J17 is a grandmother and those grandmothers are as important in the killer whale world as they are in the human world,” Lance Barrett-Lendard, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium told the CBC. “They’re kind of the glue that holds their whole lineage together.”

The death of a matriarch usually results in more deaths of others in the pod, particularly the adult males. The southern resident population is at a 35-year-low after the three deaths last year. The current number is at 74 with only 22 oracas left in J Pod.

Don’t think 42 is old. A killer whale called Granny was thought to be 105 years old at the time of her death. (We previously wrote about the importance of the matriarch here.)

One of the issues is food supply. Killer whales mostly eat chinook salmon and those numbers have dropped due to ocean conditions and poor river migration. Underwater ocean noise from increased marine traffic and other human-made sources are also causing problems.

Engine noise from vessels makes it difficult for many whales to communicate. To give you an idea of what it would be like for us humans: being trapped in a loud and dark nightclub, unable to see or hear the people right next to you. While a human can leave a noisy nightclub, whales cannot escape these underwater noises. (Source: The Tyee, “One Way to Help BC’s Orcas: Quieter Ships”)

The Haro Strait is the summer feeding habitat of the southern resident killer whale population. It’s off the coast of Victoria, the capital city of BC that pumps raw sewage into the ocean (head shake).

Granted, many say the ocean is adept at dealing with the sewage as strong tidal currents and cold ocean give the waters a high assimilative capacity for the waste. Still, one can’t help but to wonder – why even risk it when there is technology available to deal with the waste in a far less gross form. Greater Victoria generates about 130 million liters of sewage EVERY DAY.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a plan of action last year to aid the whales. This includes reduction of underwater noise, limiting disturbance from humans (read: whale watching boats), monitoring whales from a safe distance, ensuring accessible food supply and protecting critical habitat. While the plan is legally required, listed under the Species at Risk Act, the DFO has been criticized for taking so long to put it into action.

If you’d like to take action, there’s a petition here or donate to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation here.

We all need to take action.