On Friday, May 19, 86 Southern resident killer whales were spotted in Friday Harbor — not in the Salish Sea, but on Second Street.
Members of the Center for Whale Research and the San Juan Islanders for Safe Shipping planted 86 foam orca fins on the county courthouse and council chamber’s lawns to honor Endangered Species Day. The seven white orcas represented the ghosts of those who died in 2016 and early 2017 and a chain draped around Tokitae’s fin represented her captivity at a Miami oceanarium. Of the over 1,000 animal types on the Endangered Species list, the Salish Sea’s resident orcas have made it to the top eight. According to Deborah Giles, research director at the Center for Whale Research, that was a way for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees to request congressional funds to protect what they consider to be the most endangered species. So far, no money has been allocated.
“We know what needs to be done, it just takes political willpower,” said Giles, about increasing orcas’ food supply. “Are [politicians] going to let these animals go extinct on their watch?”
Two others on the top eight of NOAA’s “spotlight” species are eaten by the Southern residents — Coho salmon from the central Californian coast and Chinook salmon from the Sacramento River. According to data from the Center for Whale Research, in years when Chinook salmon are low, the orca population dwindles.
It’s large vessels, like oil containers, that cause the biggest noise disturbance to orcas, said Giles, which hinders their ability to communicate and echolocate food.
Giles will kick off Orca Awareness Month on June 4 at the Golden Gardens Park in Seattle with the Center for Whale Research staff, tribal and political speakers, and the 86 orca fins, held by demonstrators. So far, said Giles, only J pod has been accounted for this year, and K and L haven’t been spotted. This is historically late, she added.
“If we don’t have direct action now, we’ll lose the Southern residents,” said Giles. “We are already losing them.”
For info, visit www.whaleresearch.com.