Starvation is one of the greatest threats to the survival of Puget Sound’s iconic Southern Resident orca whales. Chinook salmon, the orcas’ main food source, have declined precipitously, contributing to a high rate of deaths and miscarriages among the whales. As the orcas spread out more to scrounge for food, they spend more time foraging alone and less time working together.
Although these orcas have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2005, fewer survive in Puget Sound today than a decade ago. This June is Orca Awareness Month, and there’s still hope for their recovery—but we can’t save the orcas while destroying the ecosystems they depend on.
Washington Governor Inslee has created an Orca Recovery Task Force charged with identifying immediate actions to improve orca survival and developing a longer-term plan for orca recovery and sustainability. We need you to tell Governor Inslee and the task force that any plan to save the orcas must save the salmon that are their main food source—and not just in Puget Sound.
Scientists say one of the best things we can do to increase salmon abundance for orcas is to take out four failing, outdated and costly dams on the lower Snake River that limit salmon migration and reduce the number of salmon available to orcas during critical winter months when they leave Puget Sound in search of food. Removing these dams, even though they are far from Puget Sound, would open up hundreds of miles of free-flowing waterways, restoring safe passage to and from the imperiled wild salmon’s spawning habitat in central Idaho, boosting salmon production and affording more prey for the orcas.
Of course, starvation isn’t the only threat to the orcas’ survival. Southern Resident orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world, with alarmingly high levels of pollutants in their bodies, including banned toxics like DDT and PCBs. These toxics can suppress the orcas’ immune system, devastate their nervous and reproductive systems, and lead to birth defects. Noise from the growing amount of vessel traffic in the Salish Sea also has serious and adverse impacts on orcas, causing them to expend far more energy to find and catch salmon.
Orcas, an icon of the Pacific Northwest, are highly intelligent, social and inspiring creatures. They shouldn’t be facing extinction because we refuse to take measures needed to save them.
Tell Governor Inslee and the task force to take immediate steps to increase salmon production from the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and to propose measures addressing pollution prevention, noise reduction and oil spill risks.