Southern Resident Orcas Too Magnificent to Lose

ORca photo by Kim on Flickr (cropped).jpg

Kim on Flickr

The Southern Resident orcas are dying. NOAA identified them on a short list of species most likely to go extinct unless we take drastic action. Losing the Southern Resident orcas forever would be unforgivable. Because it is not too late to save them.

We know these majestic whales. They are icons of the Pacific Northwest, spending the summer months in the inland waters off Washington State. With only 81 individuals left, each one has a number, a nickname, and a story.

Southern Resident J2, or Granny as she's known, is 104 years old and might be the oldest orca in the world. J32, aka Rhapsody, was pregnant when she washed up on shore dead this past winter. Southern Resident J26, or Mike, frequently swims caringly alongside his younger siblings, the orca equivalent of babysitting. And his pod-mate J27, Blackberry (pictured above), is easy to recognize by his tall dorsal fin.

Orca w baby photo by Mike Charest on Flickr .jpg

Mike Charest on Flickr

In the spring and winter months, these orcas roam the coastal waters of Washington, Oregon, and California hunting for their favorite prey, Chinook salmon. But the fish aren't there. It's this simple lack of food that's killing them. When Rhapsody washed up dead, her blubber layer was thin and dry of oil, malnourished.

My own daughter Isla turns 1 year old today. When she's my age, I want her to know these orcas. Isla, I want these stunning apex predators to forever set your heart on fire with gratitude for the beauty, bounty, and magic of the natural world. That's what the whales do for me.

A few years ago our government decided that some banks were too big to fail. It's time to come together and decide that these orcas are too magnificent to lose. We must not fail them.

Orca fish NOAA.jpg


There are four dams on the lower Snake River that are keeping Chinook salmon runs from accessing the most pristine salmon habitat in the lower 48: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite Dam. Breach these dams and we will bring back the fish. Rebuilding Chinook salmon populations is probably the most important thing we can do to help endangered orcas recover.

It is easy to get overwhelmed in the environmental fight. We are fatigued, sometimes fatalistic, and fed up. But for the four baby orca calves born this summer, I won't give up. Those babies have only a 50 percent chance of making it to their first birthday. They are out there fighting the odds, focused on learning to find salmon. We can help.

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