Our darling baby sister lost her valiant struggle for survival. Sometime between the 7th and 13th of September, Scarlet (J50) breached the Rainbow Bridge. Scarlet was named for her apparently difficult birth. She had rake marks from her dorsal fin to her tail, indicating that orca midwives likely assisted her mom Slick (J16) with the birth. We adored Scarlet’s courage and tenacity; she fought her way into existence, and she fought hard on her way out of this world.
We recognized a colossal spirit in Scarlet’s tiny body and we know her Southern Resident (SRKW) clan understood this about her as well. A September 13th superpod of Js, Ks, and Ls – now increasingly rare — did not seem coincidental. Perhaps it was the SRKW wake for Scarlet.
During this summer of sorrow, we shed many tears as we watched our Kéet relatives slip toward extinction. Sister Scarlet wasted away; our sister Tahlequah (J35) grieved the death of her newborn; our handsome brother Crewser (L92) was declared dead in mid-June. Scarlet literally bore the scars of humanity’s failure to protect her and her extended SRKW family.
An emergency response team intervened with Scarlet in an unprecedented attempt to restore her to health. Though she did not survive, we are grateful to the responders for trying to save her. Scarlet was worth every effort. Many aspects of J50’s intervention plan will be useful in the future. Now the entire SRKW community demands an emergency response.
The Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force has released a draft report. Your homework this time is to arm yourselves with knowledge, read the draft, and submit sorely needed comments at governor.wa.gov/orcareport by midnight on October 7. The task force will consider public comments received on the draft report at the October 17-18 meetings.
Beware of spin, pseudo-science, and self-serving agendas, all glaringly evident throughout the document. The task force has about 45 members, and a brief review of the draft elicited the snarky thought, “You get an earmark, and you get an earmark! Everybody gets an earmark!” Except the orcas.
To be fair, the draft contains worthwhile recommendations, but many proposed actions sound politically expedient. To paraphrase the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC), Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation: immediately closing recreational and commercial marine Chinook fisheries; suspending all commercial and recreational whale watching targeting the SRKW; and actively enforcing these measures – this is what emergency response looks like.
Educational resources include the decidedly logical “Key Measures Necessary to Halt the Decline of SRKW and Assure Recovery” by the Wild Fish Conservancy (wildfishconservancy.org). Most illuminating is WFC’s input — informed by science — on designating SRKW foraging refuges and the perils of indiscriminately producing and releasing more hatchery Chinook.
Please comment to the task force on prey solutions other than breaching dams. In WFC’s words, “Removal of the Snake River dams would also provide significant help to SRKW in the longer-term and we certainly support efforts to remove them. But this is not going to happen in the immediate future, and even were removals to be scheduled and funded, removals would not begin in the next five years or more and benefits to the recruitments of affected Snake River Chinook populations would not likely accrue to foraging SRKW for one or more Chinook generations (4 -5 years) thereafter. SRKW do not have this long to wait for these probable benefits! While dam removal is a critical component to SRKW (and Chinook) recovery, it alone is insufficient.” Conditions on BC’s Fraser River are vital. A 2010 NOAA Fisheries study found that, between 2004-2008, 80-90 percent of Chinook salmon that SRKW consumed originated from the Fraser River.
Several articles about SRKW recovery at https://sanjuanislander.com are must-reads, particularly Sharon Kivisto’s “Profits or protection? Killer whales in the San Juan Islands. ” The article begins bluntly: “It all boils down to which number is more important – 74 whales or a $200 million whale watching industry.”
Immediate relief for the SRKW requires salmon recovery and habitat restoration efforts combined with efforts to mitigate vessel noise and presence. Whale protection zones must be mandatory, not voluntary. Robust oil spill response capability is essential – see “Potential vessel recommendation 13” on page 33 in the draft report. Remember, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill devastated Southern Alaska Resident AB Pod and caused the looming extinction of Prince William Sound’s Chugach (AT1) Transients.
Code Scarlet alludes to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of species facing extinction. If SRKW were on the task force, their demands would be concise: “Hey, Ape Brains: get your damned noisy boats out of our space, stop greedily depleting our Chinook, and quit polluting our home with your myriad toxic crap. DO IT NOW.”
Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS & STRANDINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041. We still have seal pups. When reporting a sighting or stranding, be specific: date, time, location, travel direction, species description, number of whales/seals/etc., and behavior observed. We prefer phone reports, but if email is the only way to coax you to report to us, send sightings and photos to Vashonorcas@aol.com. Your photos of marine mammals are valuable for ID purposes. Do not assume we will randomly find stuff posted online. We are grateful to everyone who reports directly to us.