Salmon restoration is everything to the Southern Residents. Without an adequate food source, there's simply no way to recover the population. Regulating acoustic traumas from boats and toxic pollution are both crucial for the pod, but without food, those problems become secondary. Adequate food supply underpins recovery for the Southern Residents, especially now. Weiler, for instance,told The Dodo about the new campaign: "Don't Let Orcas Be Dammed." Whale and Dolphin Conservation makes a point to thank PacifiCorp "for making the right choice to remove four of its dams along the Klamath River," and urges the public to sign a letter of support to urge PacifiCorp "to continue to push Congress to pass the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, which approves and helps fund the dam removal project."
Weiler explained to The Dodo:
"The whales may be more affected by a loss of available prey in their winter range (which includes the Klamath). Food stress also causes the orcas to burn through fat reserves that contain stored bio-contaminants, which can be transferred to offspring. With our Klamath Dam campaign, we are hoping to show how important an abundant prey resource is to the Southern Residents, especially in their winter range."
Save Our Wild Salmon is an organization working to encourage dam removal in the Columbia and Snake River Basin, a strategic area of critical importance for Pacific Northwest salmon recovery. "In the time of Lewis and Clark up to 16 million wild salmon returned each year. Today, as few as ten thousand salmon return home to the Snake River ... By partially removing four dams on the lower Snake River we can restore the Pacific Northwest's wild salmon and free-flowing rivers as vital economic engines for local communities,"SOS explains on their website. Meanwhile, communities across the Pacific Northwest are gathering to stand down the potential for catastrophic loss, of both the salmon and orca. You can see it in workshops and seminars convened around the region - from San Juan Island, to Vancouver B.C., to the University of Idaho - that feature the crucial links between salmon and orca recovery.
Jeff Friedman, an orca advocate, said "There were no arguments or discussions around any issues other than salmon recovery ... It seems everyone is in agreement that the salmon issue is everything, and any other issues are being put on the back burner."
Dr. Chris Caudill, assistant professor and project leader for the Fish Ecology Research Lab at the University of Idaho, told The Dodo, "Recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whales will require that daughters survive to have at least one daughter who is also a mother. Low salmon abundance, particularly of Chinook salmon, contributes to the stressors experienced by whales, including during the calving period. Increased salmon abundance can only benefit whales, ease the effects of other stressors and increase the probability of recovery."
Finally, any discussion of the potential for imminent extinction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales would be remiss without a reminder of the heavy toll that SeaWorld and the capture era had on the whale clan's initial catastrophic losses. In his recent guest blog for WDC called SeaWorld's Lasting Impact, Ventre offers a scathing but powerful call for SeaWorld to stop turning a blind eye on their own involvement in the Southern Residents' population losses, and instead, turn towards a deep level of corporate involvement in working to save this wild population of whales that they've so violently impacted.
Ventre writes, "The Southern Residents, with over 120 members before the capture era, pre-1965, are endangered because of SeaWorld, and remain that way due to dwindling salmon populations. This clan - the J, K, and L pods - has been unable to rebound from collections that removed greater than 40% of their members, leaving just 70 whales by 1976." He goes on to explain, point by point, exactly how SeaWorld's hands are bloody with the history of whale capture, and how the corporation can now come clean by taking immediate and comprehensive action to right its wrongs. Ventre concludes:
"SeaWorld has an opportunity to help increase salmon for the Southern Resident killer whales; a chance for a karmic pay back, per se. It could use its influence to aid salmon recovery efforts in California, Oregon, and Washington. Political leaders could be encouraged, by SeaWorld, to vote for the removal of unnecessary dams that block salmon migratory pathways far inland. As an example, The Elwha River Restoration Project has been both a great success and one of the most heart-warming environmental stories in decades. The corporation could develop true educational shows that reach out and activate millions of guests to 'save the whales.' It could teach children water conservation steps and adults how to reduce the use of pesticides and lawn products which contaminate waterways and hurt fish."
SeaWorld could institute a new business model that helps recover the wild whale population that struggles to this day as a result of the capture era. SeaWorld has the chance, right now, to shift their strategy. With the news of Rhapsody's loss, nothing could be more important to these whales.