There is a venerable saying among Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest: "No fish, no blackfish."
The depletion of salmon stocks, especially the fat- and calorie-rich Chinook salmon favored by fish-eating orcas of Puget Sound, is hindering the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the favored target of captures for entertainment purposes at places like SeaWorld in the 1960s and 1970s.
Where did the salmon go? Overfishing and PCBs in the Sound have certainly contributed to the life-threatening problem for the whales, but the real culprits are dams on rivers that drain into regional waters, collectively known as the Salish Sea.
But now, some dams are coming down. And in nature's miraculous manner of recovery, fish are starting to return upstream to breed in the formerly blocked rivers.
This month, the final remnants of the Elwha Dam, on the Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River and Glines Canyon Dam, built eight miles upstream, will be removed and partly because neither dams had fish ladders to facilitate salmon runs. A new documentary, "DamNation," chronicles the damage caused by many dams, argues that the most harmful ones should come down and shows how their demolition can engender natural recovery. This film "explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers," the producers wrote.
The film, available on demand and via iTunes and winner of the 2014 SXSW Audience Choice Award, "moves through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature."