Letters to the Editor

More on research related to whales' starvation

Isn’t it a shame — and a bit typical — that your next-door neighbor complains about you to the newspaper, instead of walking 30 feet across the grass and asking you directly about things? (“Threats to local orcas,” page 8, Sept. 2 Journal).

Jim Pound would have saved himself a lot of embarrassment if he had only taken the time to come over.

Jim’s letter, unfortunately, is chock full of errors, beginning with his very first sentence. The quote he attributes to me is not mine, and anyone who bothers to visit the Orca Relief Web site ( www.orcarelief.org) will immediately see what he saw, a quote from Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd:

“Whale watching. The very concept is absurd: Riding a big polycarbonate oil-and-bilge belcher out into the fragile Puget Sound ecosystem to enjoy and appreciate one of nature’s most alluring, majestic beasts. It’s one of those continuous, lather-rinse-repeat loops: The more you go out in search of the Northwest’s truly rare wildlife, the more truly rare it gets — and the more people want to seek it out. Stop the madness; just say no.”

Jim has shared his experiences in seeing whales from his house, and his boat, and this is fine; but why he assumes, as he seems to do, that the office hours for Orca Relief have anything to do with our science, or observations, is, well, just wrong. Here is what is right:

1. Starting in 1996, Orca Relief has spent more money on the science of what is killing our whales than any other non-profit or NGO in the world.

2. None of that science was done by me, or from our Orca Relief office, which is where we do the accounting and organizational work. I also run a global technology company on the side (www.stratnews.com ).

3. One of our studies, based on six years of cliff-side research done above Hannah Heights and led by Dr. Birgit Kriete, remains the best work done on orca behavior with and without boats, including data from as far back as 1980. She and her team tracked the whales from dawn until dusk, using transits and videocams to avoid her own boat effects, and included data from 1980 when there were no whale-watch operators.

Her work shows, among other things, that boat presence costs female adults 17 percent more energy, that boat presence increases the whales’ metabolic rates, and that their dive times are longer and swim tracks longer and less direct in the presence of boats.

In other words, boat presence accelerates starvation, in situations when chinook resources are already low. If Jim had come over and asked me, I would have explained this.

As for agendas: as a Stanford-trained marine biochemist specializing in cetaceans, and as co-founder of the San Juan Anti-Toxics Coalition, you’d think my agenda would be that the pollutants are killing the whales. But the fact is, I have no agenda, except to fund and disseminate scientific studies on what, according to research, really is killing the whales. While whales are polluted, there is zero evidence that this is killing them, and overwhelming evidence that they are dying of starvation, and that boats directly contribute to the problem.

The first-such study ever done, funded by us through the University of Washington, indicated that orca mortality was correlated with both reduced chinook count and the presence of increased boat numbers. Jim, and anyone else, can read this scientific work on our Web site.

Dr. David Bain, a longtime MarineWorld employee and close friend of many whale-watch operators, did the definitive paper on the correlation between boat presence and death, and a further paper, surprising to him and us, showing a 97 percent shutdown of whale sonar by boats at legal (100m.) distances. Sonar shutdown means no hunting.

There is no agenda, at least on our part, except trying to save this population. We’ve called and invited Jim and Brenda to join us for tea when they return from California, so that we can answer any other questions they may have about Orca Relief or whale mortality. In my experience, that's the island way.

Mark Anderson
Orca Relief Citizens Alliance

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