Editors note: Sorrel North did reach out to the Journal to correct the error regarding Monika Wieland Shields and Michael Weiss. Unfortunately, it did not get corrected before it went to press. The Journal did run a correction the following week.
By Karin Roemers-Kleven.
I am compelled to write a rebuttal to the Guest column by Ms. Sorrel North published Oct. 12, about the research study Monika Wieland Shields authored on private vessel presence near the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Please note, I am not a member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association nor of Orca Behavior Institute and I watch whales from shore. Sadly, not only is Ms. North’s letter rife with errors starting with the claim Monika Wieland Shields is married to Michael Weiss, Ph.D. but she seems to have found a way to create a conspiracy theory. Monika Wieland Shields is married to Jason Shields. Michael Weiss, Ph.D., is the Director of Research at Center for Whale Research. He is from the UK. Somehow Ms. North finds a way to claim that Monika is married to Michael Weiss and therefore the study must have been funded by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, thereby biasing the study outcomes supposedly because the PWWA donated money to CWR. Nothing is farther from the truth. Orca Behavior Institute is an independent organization that studies and advocates for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Monica and her team saw a need to study the behavior of private boaters without the presence of whale boats and the influence on SRKWs. The study was funded by private donations to OBI. Ms. North implies that OBI is somehow beholden to the PWWA and suggests that the study is therefore in favor of the interests of whale boats. What is the truth? OBI was solely responsible for the funding, designing, executing, analyzing, and publishing the study. While Ms. North tries her best to devalue the study, the study was peer-reviewed and was published in a reputable scientific journal, Marine Policy. A couple of other untruths are worthy of mention. Ms. North claims that the study was conducted from PWWA vessels when, in fact, it was conducted from OBIs own boat. She also claims that SoundWatch was monitoring and correcting the behavior of whale boats. I was a volunteer on SoundWatch and we did conduct behavioral studies but on whales in the presence of private boats. We offered “education” to privates who violated the existing rules. Most of the time we were called by the whale boats to interfere with a private who was about to drive right over the whales! Finally, Ms North’s comment that “the whale-watching industry has appropriated the entire Salish Sea ecosystem for its own financial gain” is ridiculous. If we want to complain about monetizing from the ecosystem our focus should be overfishing by the entire commercial fishing industry that is a multi-billion industry that profits from catching salmon the primary food supply of the SRKWs.
We all love the whales. It is so sad that Ms. North feels a need to divide the whale community and attack OBI with lies.