Protect The Orcas
What threats are the Southern Resident Orcas facing?
Chinook salmon stocks are crashing along the coast. Making up 80% of the Sothern Resident Orcas’ diet, Chinook salmon have a profound impact on this unique orca community. Starvation also causes orca to burn more of their stored fat reserves, which carry a large load of carcinogenic PCB’s stored in the tissue -further contributing to endocrine disruption and lower immune health. A lack of prey availability, coupled with changing oceans, affects the whales’ traditional feeding habits and territory. This has been documented in the increasing absence of the Southern Resident orca from their traditional foraging range during the spring and summer.
Two of the major reasons salmon stocks are crashing:
1) Salmon Farms:
Currently there are about 50 salmon farms active on the BC coast. Ecologically, these facilities pose serious risks to wild salmon stocks. The presence of Sea Lice has been well documented in these open net facilities. Sea lice are proven to kill wild juvenile salmon. The recent discovery of PRV (piscine orthoreovirus), and a virus called heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) are cause for great concern in our coastal waters. HSMI was discovered in 80% of the sampled farmed salmon in a study led by Kristi Miller, a DFO molecular geneticist. Up to 90% of farmed salmon in the markets is testing positive to PRV, according to new research. It is not yet known exactly how detrimental these diseases are in terms of affecting the wild salmon that share the waters with the Atlantic salmon kept in the open net farms. What we do know is that these farms threaten the health of wild salmon stocks, creating a ripple effect that spans the entire coast.
There is also evidence that effluent from infected fish at farmed fish processing facilities is being pumped directly into the ocean, as was documented at Brown’s Bay Packing Company in Tofino last November. With open-net aquaculture, there is always a risk of salmon escaping from pens into the ocean. This was witnessed in August 2017, near Anacortes Washington when the Cooke Aquaculture fish farm collapsed and released 250,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. Testing was conducted immediately after this breach and researchers found that 100% of these escaped salmon were infected with PRV virus.
How to take action to have Salmon Farms removed from our waters:
- Support indigenous-led movement across the coast – say NO to salmon farms in our waters!
- Support Raincoast Conservation Foundations’ research in their efforts to track and document the spread of these viruses
- Write to Jonathan Wilkinson (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans) at Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca and use your voice to tell him we do not support the presence of these salmon farms in our waters
- DO NOT BUY ATLANTIC FARMED SALMON, and encourage your friends, family, local grocery stores and restaurants to boycott farmed salmon
2) Herring Fisheries:
Herring make up 62% of an adult Chinook salmon’s diet, as well as being a vital link in the food web along our coastal ecosystem, feeding many creatures including: bears, seals, sea lions, humpback whales, shorebirds, and wolves. Historically there have been five herring runs in coastal waters. All but one has collapsed under the management of the DFO. Despite this collapse, a wasteful commercial sac roe fishery is operating in the Salish Sea, threatening the biodiversity of our coast; as well as traditional First Nations spawn-on-kelp fishery, which has been practiced for thousands of years. Amidst concerns about dwindling herring populations and a huge public outcry this past season, in March the DFO opened the 2019 herring fishery in the Salish Sea. Over 15,000 tons of herring was taken over 21 days. Tragically, of the 15,551 tons of herring caught, 13,500 tons went into making herring oil and herring meal to feed farmed Atlantic Salmon. This annual catch could potentially be feeding hundreds of thousands of Wild Chinook salmon.
How to take Action to protect wild herring stocks:
- Support the campaign that Pacific Wild is running, #biglittlefish, and visit their website https://pacificwild.org/campaign/protect-pacific-herring/, where they make it so easy to connect to your representatives by phone and let them know that you support the protection of the Pacific Herring, and all the wild creatures who rely on them for existence in these waters.
Because orcas are an apex predator, and they live such long lives, they are very vulnerable to ocean contamination – particularly to the concentration of PCB’s. PCB’s are stored in the fatty tissues of the whales, and bio accumulates over time. These toxins are transferred to young whales through their mothers’ milk. Studies have shown that orca have the highest concentration of PCB’s in their bodies of any marine mammal on the planet. Although PCB’s have been banned for years, they continue to exist in our environment.
Another risk that these orcas face is micro plastics, the effects of which have yet to be fully explored and documented.
How to take action to support cleaner oceans:
- Support ocean clean up projects
- Build your own rain garden of native plants to reduce storm runoff
- Take responsibility for your own personal waste stream: use natural products, don’t flush antibiotics or medications, choose natural fiber clothing and linens to reduce micro plastics
- Go plastic free (or closer to plastic free) and advocate for more sustainable options at your local grocery stores
In the North Pacific Ocean, noise from vessels has doubled every ten years for the past 60 years. Noise levels in the critical habitat of the Southern Resident population are now at such high levels, that it is fundamentally affecting the whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate.
How to take action to support a quieter Salish Sea
- Support Raincoast Conservation Foundation in their campaign to hold the government accountable in protecting the acoustic rights of the orca, with a series of recommendations including the creation of feeding refuges free from commercial vessel traffic and whale watching boats – https://www.raincoast.org/killer-whales/
- Stay at least 400m from all marine mammals while out on the water
- Support the indigenous led front line activism to resist the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would see a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the critical habitat of these endangered whales. The Unistot’en Camp -indigenous land protectors who are taking a stand on their traditional unceded territory against the pipeline construction. https://unistoten.camp