International Marine Mammal Project

Orcas in Danger

Earth Island News

International Marine Mammal Project

Seattle, Washington - The name and the familiar black-and-white image of the orca, the “killer whale,” is omnipresent in this town. There is the Orca Inn, Orca Electric and even the Orca volleyball team. Sadly, the whale that inspires people to pay attention to commercial advertising is dying in the wild.

Three main pods of “southern resident” orcas spend much of the year in the Salish Sea, an inland body of salt water that stretches from the southern reaches of Puget Sound northward past Seattle and into Canada. These whales are suffering and dying.

In 1995, the orcas in these three pods numbered 99 individuals. In June 2001, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) surveyed the orca community following the pods’ return from its still-unknown winter habitat and counted only 78 survivors - a decline of more than 20 percent over five years.

The most likely causes of the orcas’ decline are toxic contamination, lack of food and the impacts of boat traffic. The orcas of the Salish Sea are listed among the world’s most highly contaminated marine mammals.

Salmon, the resident orcas’ main food source, have been in steep decline throughout the region, forcing these northwest orcas to travel all the way to California in search of food. Vessel traffic has increased with the human population.

Reversing the orcas’ decline will require successful campaigns to restore salmon and salmon habitats. It will be essential to clean up toxic waste and prevent further toxic pollution; to conserve water so the salmon will have water in which to spawn; to reduce household and lawn use of toxic substances; and to ensure that orcas have sufficient “alone” time in the water, away from boats and people.

The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider listing the orcas as an endangered species - a process that will take at least two years.

Restoring the orca population will require more than a successful petition to list the animals as endangered: it will take action. To expand on the considerable efforts of other environmental organizations, Earth Island has launched the Orca Recovery CAmpaign (ORCA) to educate and engage the public.

In April 2001, an Elway Research Poll conducted on behalf of ORCA revealed that, while only 42 percent of people in Washington state knew about the plight of the orcas, 64 percent felt that orca protection was very important. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed wanted pesticides phased out and toxic waste cleaned up. Half of the respondents were willing to reduce water use by 10 percent, with 44 percent willing to conserve even more.
Regardless of where you live, you can help. Our willingness to write letters to our political representatives can lead to policy decisions that will increase funding to restore the salmon runs and remove toxic waste.

ORCA’s new website [www.saveorca] lists “Ten Things You Can Do To Help Save the Southern Resident Orcas.” The website also offers links to nearly 50 other specialized organizations, government agencies and political contacts. At the website, you can hear orcas vocalize while you are learning how to help them. You can also request free decals and brochures.

Over the coming year, we will update our website with information about new opportunities to take an active role in protecting the wild orcas. Please take the time to help the orcas before all that remains of these magnificent creatures is a logo on a cafe window or a photo in a magazine ad.

We arrived in San Francisco on the evening of September 11 to the news of the horrific terrorist attacks. Despite this tragedy, our work goes on.

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