Letters to the Editor

Facts distorted, misstated in 'State of the Orca' | Letters

Once again, Mark Anderson of Orca Relief has managed to distort and misstate facts to support his claims regarding orcas.

In the past, many have ignored his postings for the untruths they are. But to paraphrase a quote, "even a mistruth spoken often enough becomes believable."

Monika Weiland recently posted a very well-thought out reply that was well supported by facts.

My bona fides: I have been a marine naturalist locally for 11 years, I have been a Soundwatch Volunteer for 15 years, I am a certified teacher and taught outdoor education for 2 years in the schools. I have volunteered my time with NOAA, UW, the Center for Whale Research, Cascadia Research, and The Whale Museum.

Let's analyze Anderson's most recent claim and compare it to the facts.

"No one can deny that our whales have been dying of starvation."

It is a fact that salmon populations have been in a decline in the last 50 years. The salmon population has been reduced by 90 percent due to loss of habitat, mainly through the damning of major rivers such as the Elwa. It can also be attributed to old forestation practices in which riparian zones around streams were largely unprotected until recently (which resulted in a change in the composition of spawning areas due to increased temperature of water and silting from run-off). Restoring salmon fisheries is a long process that is just now underway. But whale watch vessels have nothing to do with this fact.

"No one can deny that chinook salmon counts matter most, and that the presence of motorized whale watch boats hastens that starvation."

Again, chinook are the preferred species of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). But Anderson fails to correlate how a whale watch boat hastens starvation of SRKWs. Nowhere in any of the documentation provided to me by NOAA last month states that whale watch boats specifically are to blame for any decline in SRKWs.

"No one can deny that these boats temporarily "blind" orca sonar, used for hunting, even at now-legal distances of up to 200 meters away."

Once again, Anderson fails on this assertion completely. No study has yet been conducted since the new regulations went into effect in May, nor has any study been done that specifically correlates the presence of whale watch boats and only whale watch boats as "blinding" orca sonar.

The misinformation by Anderson continues.

He states that there are no K Pod males of breeding age. Seriously?  K21, K25, K26? Not of breeding age (two in their 20s, one nearly 20)?

Or his further distortion that the pods are only producing females. Again, do you really not read the current statistics and matriline guides from the Center For Whale Research?

The most recent birth within the last month — another male orca!  In the last few years, we have had 18 calves born to the Southern Residents.  6 are female.  8 are male.  4 are still unknown.  And in a limited population, wouldn't it be logical and preferred to have more females than males? One male can inseminate many females, who are the ones who bear calves.

And how laughable is it for Anderson to suggest that creating a no go zone on the west side that only eliminates whale watch operators?

This again flies in the face of facts — the vast majority of all incidents recorded by Soundwatch & Straitwatch involve private vessels.  Just on Monday of this week (8/1/11), nearly every incident recorded involved either a private motor vessel, or a private fishing boat.

Another note — Orca Relief decided in the past to go out on the water and yell at whale watch operators from a motorized vessel using a bullhorn. While in the process of "protecting the orcas from noise", this vessel was documented in violation of the whale watch guidelines by motoring within 100 yards of whales, crossing the path of whales, all while their engines were engaged and using a very loud bullhorn.

There is already a zone on the west side that is a voluntary no go zone that the whale watch operators abide by (and one that kayaks, anglers, and private motor boats don't always abide by). From Eagle Point to Deadman's Bay is a 1/4 mile zone, at Lime Kiln it extends out half a mile, and then 1/4 mile from Lime Kiln to Kellet Bluff.

Not too long ago, I spoke with someone affiliated with Orca Relief (whom I won't name), and I was told "if whale watch vessels abide by the rules, and educate their passengers and turn them into whale advocates, then I believe they are doing more good than harm."

I've even had people who used to be Orca Relief supporters come out on my vessel (some quite begrudgingly at the start) who have told me they were surprised by the error of some of their preconceived notions about whale watch boats, and that they were glad they came out with us and saw first-hand how respectful the boats are, and the strong educational message we promoted onboard.

John Boyd

San Juan Island

 

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