Chinook salmon, 74 killer whales, and the future of the Salish Sea

2018 has been a year of huge wins and heartbreaking losses. We can’t do this work without you.

A Southern Resident killer whales, J50, glides through the water in the Salish Sea.

Photo by Katy Foster/ NOAA Fisheries.

2018 closes with just 74 Southern Resident killer whales remaining in the world. You’ve been with us through a year of huge wins and some heartbreaking losses and it’s worth a recap as we close the year and prepare for 2019.

January – With 76 Southern Residents remaining, Raincoast and partners petition the government to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to enable recovery measures.

June – Cruiser (L92), a whale who should have had decades of life ahead of him, is declared dead.

July – Tahlequah (J35) gives birth to a female calf that dies within an hour. The world watches as she carries her dead calf for more than two weeks.

August – The Federal Court of Appeal upholds our legal challenge and unanimously rules that the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion project violated its legal obligations to protect these endangered whales. The permissions are quashed. The federal government buys the pipeline.

September – We launch legal action asking the Federal Court to review the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s failure to recommend an emergency order. After unprecedented international efforts, Scarlett (J50) is pronounced dead. The population is 74.

November – The federal cabinet refuses to issue an emergency order against the advice of its ministers. COSEWIC assesses the spring runs of Fraser Chinook as endangered.

December – We submit further evidence on Southern Residents in the renewed Trans Mountain hearings.

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What did we learn? We helped drive initial recovery measures implemented in 2018 such as fisheries restrictions. Our legal efforts were effective. However, much greater threat reduction efforts to reduce noise and disturbance, and recover salmon are required.

While aware that fisheries closures are controversial, they are justified given so many populations of Chinook salmon are endangered. However, the backlash from those profiting from the status quo in the oil, shipping, fishing, and whale watching sectors has begun. Sea lions are being illegally shot, seal culls and hatcheries are proposed as cure-alls to ecological issues that in reality require a reduction in our footprint. How do we make progress on killer whale recovery? Part of the answer might lie in the grief displayed by Tahlequah (J35).

Much greater threat reduction efforts to reduce noise and disturbance, and recover salmon are required.  Tweet This!

Loss is something we can all recognize; our own grief is a reflection of the fact that we care. The tragic story of Tahlequah and her unnamed calf have rightly captured attention. With this in mind, 2019 marks the start of our work on a documentary that focuses on those championing real solutions that currently lack political support. Without sufficient pressure, governments will not act.

This is the hardest work I have ever done. I sit in rooms facing government ministers and their bureaucrats, or well resourced and sometimes aggressive industry opponents. Buoyed by my colleagues, our partners, and the backing of our supporters, I carry on with the knowledge that our science tells us we can do better and a belief that it is our collective responsibility to restore ecosystems and do all that we can to help this beleaguered killer whale population.

As we prepare for 2019, I’m asking you to consider how your donation could help us shift the dial on killer whale recovery. Please choose a monthly donation so Raincoast, and the 74 Southern Residents, can count on your support throughout the year.

For those that remain, and the integrity of the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee, biologist and program director.

Misty MacDuffee

Misty is a biologist and the Program Director of Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program. Her most recent publication, with co-authors at the Wild Fish Conservancy and the University of Montana, describes a framework for certifying salmon fisheries based on a much higher bar than is currently in use. She is dedicated to the long term survival of finned, furred, and feathered creatures.

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