Concern for survival of Southern resident orca | Guest Column

(Editor’s note: The author quotes Ken Balcomb’s blog found at

By Christopher Wilson

San Juan Island

I am writing out of a deep concern for the continued survival of the Southern resident orca pods that have lived much the year for millennia around the San Juan Island area where I also live.

These whales are starving.

Ken Balcomb, Ph.D. and founder of the Center for Whale Research, who has studied these whales since 1974 and is very clear that they are in serious trouble now. He states “One thing is for sure: The survival of the Southern resident orcas will not wait for more United States and Canadian government meetings and scientific reports. Too much money has already been spent and is still being wasted. The salmon lost in years past should be evidence enough to convince decision makers that specific action needs addressing immediately.” The most realistic cure for this situation is the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Rules to give the whales more space or a quieter environment are only prolonging the inevitable. They need more food.

As Balcomb also says, “In truth, these four Snake River dams are obsolete for their intended purposes and are being maintained at huge taxpayer expense for the benefit of a very few users. Plus, they are salmon-killers in a former river (now a series of lakes) that historically provided spawning and rearing habitat for millions of Chinook salmon; and, they now doom all technological attempts to bolster salmon populations to expensive failure. Even many of the Army Corps of Engineers’ internal documents recommend that returning the river to natural or normative conditions may be the only recovery scenario for Snake River fall Chinook salmon, and it will also benefit other salmon populations. You and I are paying for this economic and ecological fiasco with our tax dollars spent to maintain structures and negative return on investment in power generation, “barge” transportation, and recreation.”

My wife and I went to visit the Elwha River this April. The dams were taken down there just a few years ago, and the salmon have already been found far upstream. The watershed of the Elwah is far smaller than the area that goes into the Snake behind these four dams. Removing those dams would give a huge return on fish.

To end with further words from Balcomb, the “Southern resident killer whale population (is moving) to quasi-extinction (less than 30 breeding animals) as a result of diminishing populations of Chinook salmon upon which they depend. There are only [76] of these whales now in total (including juveniles and post-reproductive animals), down from nearly 100 two decades ago and down from 87 when they were listed as ‘endangered’ in 2005. When they are gone it will be forever. Fixing the snake will help salmon and whales, and save you money. Do not wait until both are gone. Call or write your representatives now!”