A rambling rant with no real beginning or ending.

Orcas are known as the wolves of the sea and, as anyone who knows me might guess, they’ve always held a special place in my heart. A vital and endangered population of orcas known as the Southern Residents are in need of our help, and there are not enough people talking about it.

In the wild orcas are apex predators, but they still face various threats from humans – most notably acoustic disturbance, physical disturbance, contaminants, lack of prey availability. Unlike the Transient orcas, the Southern Resident population does not hunt for seals or other mammals. Their primary food source is Chinook salmon, nine populations of which are listed as an endangered species.

Many scientists are calling for the breaching of dams that feed into the Columbia and Snake Rivers to supplement the loss of salmon, while others argue that breaching the dams is not only harmful to the environment, but that only 4 of 26 runs actually pass through the dams and will do little to solve the problem.

According to Dam Sense, by 1999 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), now NOAA Fisheries, had determined that to recover ESA-listed Snake River spring/summer Chinook, the most risk averse action would include dam breaching. In fact, NMFS’ results demonstrated that for the ESA-listed Snake River fall Chinook and steelhead, dam breaching by itself would likely lead to recovery.

By 2002, a $33M, 7-year study by Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), narrowed the option down to four potential resolutions with analysis showing that breaching the dams had the highest probability of meeting the government’s salmon survival and recovery criteria. USACE curtailed this option in favor of transporting juvenile salmon around the dams and installing expensive hardware at the dams to make juvenile fish passage easier, which the Corps own study predicted would be slightly worse than doing nothing at all.  Neither improved fish survival. Fourteen years on and at a cost of an estimated $1B to taxpayers, Dam Sense reports that ‘salmon runs are in worse shape today than in 2002.'”

The truth is many of us don’t know what the solution to bringing the salmon back is, but it’s imperative that we try something. Marine facilities like SeaWorld captured 45 whales from this specific population between 1965-1975, an additional 13 whales were killed during the captures. At the time these facilities may not have understood the long term consequences of their actions, but we’re certainly seeing it now. Only 75 Southern Resident whales are left in the wild and we cannot stand to lose more from starvation. These are sentient, long-range animals that live as long as humans and share social bonds equally as strong (if not more) than many of our own. The loss of even one individual has deep implications for the remaining family members.

So how can you help? WDC has some great suggestions, but here are two takeaways:

1) Let elected officials know you care, that you want them to step up to save these animals, and this is not an issue that can be shelved until a later date.

2) Aquaculture is a controversial topic in the world of wildlife conservation. Although the goal is sustainability, it’s purpose is to benefit humans. Conservation initiatives are often already complex, but the addition of humans can easily impact a natural ecosystem.

It’s important to be aware of where your food comes from and the impact it has on the environment. ~Some~ (no need to @ me) research suggests there are higher concentrations of PCBs and other environmental toxins in farmed salmon from the food pellets they’re given, runoff close to shore, and the antibiotics used to stop the spread of disease in such close quarters. Accidents are inevitable and these fish, as well as toxins, can escape and compete with native populations and impact the surrounding ecosystem.

At the very least, if you are going to eat salmon opt for something other than Chinook salmon. Be conscious of whether or not it’s from a sustainable source.

 

Photo Credit: WDCS

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