All about the Southern Resident Orcas follows or skip down to re-imagining the future.
The Southern Resident Orcas are the only fish-eating orcas in the lower 48.
There are just 74 alive as of Sept. 2018.
What do the four Lower Snake River Dams have to do with the critically endangered Southern Resident Orcas seen so often in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound? Everything, when it comes to the whales’ survival. It is a food issue—make that a starvation issue for the Southern Resident Killer Whales, or SRKWs, NOAA’s formal name for these whales. Chinook salmon make up 80% of the orcas’ diet.
Why are salmon produced by the Columbia & Snake Rivers so important to the orcas’ survival? The answer is that the whales evolved eating plentiful Chinook salmon from these rivers, and are dependent on them. They need an abundant amount of salmon to survive.
Do we want the Southern Resident orcas, the beloved icons of the Pacific Northwest, to be around to inspire interest, curiosity and awe and wonder in our grandchildren, or their grandchildren? If we do, then we must increase the orcas’ food supply now—not next year, not in 10 years, but now.
Clearly, current efforts are not enough to prevent extinction of these whales. They are disappearing as we watch, literally, since whale watching is a huge industry in the Salish Sea. Southern Resident Orca families are being destroyed at an alarming rate. No new calves have survived for several years. Even more important is the fact that reproducing females (the mothers) have been dying over the last decade. Without mothers, the population cannot survive. If we lose a few more, extinction is likely.
Yet we still have time to help the orcas by bringing back the salmon from the Columbia Basin by breaching the dams this year.
re-imagining the future
Critically endangered species are in danger of extinction in the near-term. Late 2018 is the goal for recommendations from Washington’s Task Force. The federal CRSO Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled to present alternatives in draft format March of 2020. Neither of these processes will come into play in time.
Breaching the lower Snake River dams would be a fast action. It would provide the best and quickest opportunity to increase the salmon in time to give the orcas the salmon they need to survive, while giving other habitat restoration efforts their needed time to work to recover salmon, and, in turn, help recover the orcas.