The holidays are a time to unite with family and friends for seasonal gatherings or at places of worship. But this time of year should also serve as a time for reflection. We might do well to reflect on whether we will ever achieve “peace on earth”, unless, and until, we are willing to extend goodwill and compassion to the non-human families and communities with whom we share this planet, especially those whose existence hangs in the balance. Here in British Columbia, that means killer whales.
Owing to diminished numbers of Chinook salmon (their primary food), vessel disturbance and noise, pollution, and the threat of oil spills, Southern Resident Killer Whales confront a very uncertain future. Viability analysis of their fate by Canadian and U.S. scientists gives them a 50% chance of survival over the next 100 years. Sadly, in 2014 the population projections for the year 2030 have already been realized, as the number of Southern Residents is now at 77 whales.
The recent death of J32, an 18 year old breeding female, is a stark reminder of the precipice the Southern Residents stand upon.
If our grandchildren are to grow up with resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, then crucial decisions need to be made now. For example, an analysis by federal scientists shows that curtailing Chinook fisheries can improve the survival rates of these whales. Correspondingly, letting more Chinook salmon spawn could rebuild Chinook runs and provide these whales with the food supply they need.
But this quandary is not simply a numeric one. Highly intelligent, social, and sensitive, with sophisticated communication skills and very strong family ties, these whales have an intrinsic right to live.
While the debate regarding the fate of the Southern Residents takes place in the realm of science, management, and policy, it also brings up issues around ethics, morality, and even spirituality. What we as a society will choose, or not choose, to do on behalf of this endangered population of killer whales is, for British Columbians and Canadians, one of the quintessential spiritual decisions of our time.
Which brings us once again to the question, if we as society cannot find the charity in our hearts to allow the Southern Residents to recover and regain their rightful place in the coastal ecosystem we share, then what does that ultimately say about us?