In a perfect world, the Southern resident killer whales would be thriving. They would spend all day swimming past Lime Kiln, Iceberg Point and Obstruction Pass, feeding on an abundance of Chinook salmon and fearing for nothing.
But this is not a perfect world.
This is a world where four or five, old, noisy ferries bounce island to island. This is a world where extremely large tanker and cargo ships glide through the waves, their propellers creaking. This is a world where there is limited Chinook salmon and the killer whales have to compete with vessels, large and small, just to hear each other or find their next meal.
I know we cannot just stop industry, recreation or even day-to-day travel. But as we watch the population of orcas – arguably the islands’ most beloved species – shrinking each year, we can’t help but ask ourselves: what can we do to help?
If every vessel that passed through Puget Sound slowed to 11 knots, the noise pollution could be reduced by 50 percent.
Scientists like Oceans Initiative’s Rob Williams, Ph.D., and Erin Ashe, Ph.D., and others have studied the effects of noise pollution on the killer whales for more than 20 years. They have published papers that show the whales’ ability to forage for food is negatively impacted by the creaks and thuds from passing ships.
The data is there in the studies and a solution is there in the studies. We, as neighbors and friends to the orcas, must urge our politicians to take action in protecting their habitat. That includes the noise pollution. Policies can be made to legally require ships to go slower through the whales’ known foraging areas, which can help the whales exponentially.
When the Chinook salmon population can be restored to that of the 1970s, then we can truly rest easy, knowing the whales can survive. But while we work on restoring the orcas’ primary food source, let’s at least work on helping them as much as we can in the meantime.
As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”