76 Salish Sea Killer Whales Left

There are 76 Killer Whales left along Vancouver Island’s south coast. This is half the number from ten years ago. Why are these Killer Whales continuing to decline, and what is being done to stop their eventual demise?

(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)

Q. Welcome back Lawrence, what do we know about these Killer Whales?

A. These are the three Killer Whale groups that make up the J, K and L pods, and can normally be found hanging out south of Vancouver Island in the spring, summer and fall months.
A. There are three basic types of Killer Whales, ones that cruise the high seas and generally prey on sharks and dolphins, the transient Orcas that roam the coastlines and prefer seals, walruses, penguins, and anything else they can sink their teeth into, and the Orcas that dine almost exclusively on Chinook salmon, the largest of the salmon species. It’s this later group that is of concern.

Q. Why then are the J, K and L pods in danger?

A. Their exclusive dependence on Chinook salmon has turned out to be the problem. Chinook salmon have been in decline for a number of reasons such as climate change, clear-cut forestry practices, construction of dams, over-harvesting by commercial fishers in international waters, and diseases introduced into the environment by aquaculture operations.

Q. What have we done to date to turn this situation around?

A. Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) came into effect in 2003.
A. These Resident killer whale populations have been listed as endangered under the act for over ten years because of their small population size, low reproductive rate, and the existence of a variety of threats. The Act requires species at risk to be assessed under a scientific process that operates at arm’s length from the federal government.
A. It also requires the development of recovery and action plans for species that are found to be most at risk.
A. In 2007, a Recovery Strategy was developed by scientists to address the critical habitat of southern Killer Whales.

Q. If a plan was developed over ten years ago, why has nothing been done to implement the strategy?

A. There’s a lot of economic and human activity associated with the proposed plan. Mainly, putting a stop to, or severely curtailing such activities like whale watching and commercial and recreational fishing.
A. So far, politicians have been reluctant to implement the plan as it would impact the livelihoods of many people and communities.

Q. What happens if we continue to do nothing?

A. Their numbers will continue to go down.
A. There was a small Killer Whale baby-boom in 2016 that saw 8 new born Killer Whales in these three pods, but their life expectancy is normally about 50% in the first year.
A. Only one has survived to date.
A. This isn’t about putting jobs ahead of whales, or environmentalists protecting whales at all costs.
A. It’s about stopping destruction of a unique well-studied population of Killer Whales so we can gain needed time to figure out how we can stop the decline of Chinook salmon.
A. Only by re-building Chinook salmon stocks will these unique resident salmon-eating Killer Whales stand a chance to fully recover.
A. Many other Killer Whale populations around the world are rebuilding their numbers. They are entering the Arctic Ocean and finding new territory to inhabit. They are finding ways to bust open aquaculture salmon pens off the coast of Alaska.
A. Ironically, it’s these three pods, the most well-known Killer Whales in the world due to their proximity to humans, and until recently served as a source of Killer Whales for capture for our entertainment, that are the Killer Whales at risk.