Northwest Yachting February 2019

Page 66

THE NEW WAYS OF B The horrified global community watched grieving orca mother J35, Tahlequah, and her family carry her dead calf for 17 days on a macabre tour of Puget Sound last year. By Norris Comer The world at large may have been shocked, but the plight of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) is not news for us locals. We love our iconic Chinook salmon-eating J, K, and L pods, and just about everyone has a personal encounter to share, whether from the deck of their boat or the People’s Yacht, the ferry. As a boater, nothing brightens my day quite like a surprise visit from these majestic and intelligent animals, somehow so powerful yet stealthy, bonded to each other much like we are with our families. Yet tragic stories of dead Southern Residents have been accumulating for a few years now, and there’s hard data to back up the anecdotal evidence. According to the NOAA report Southern Resident Killer Whales 10 Years of Research & Conservation (2014), the historical minimum population, of this unique group was 140 individuals. According to the same report, the population was in the most peril during the era of captivity for marine shows in the 1960s. A sizeable portion of the world’s captive killer whales are in some way related to the Southern Resident population as mostly calves were captured from the wild during this time to be on display. The population clocked in at a 71-animal minimum in 1974 and has experienced periods of growth and decline since, almost cracking 100 again in the mid-1990s. The trend has been a net negative since then, and now we’re in the seventies again. At the time of this writing, the community is elated to welcome a newborn—L124, Lucky—who brings the number to 74 individuals. It’s for this reason that Southern Residents are officially designated Critically Endangered under the U.S.A.’s Endangered Species Act. Diverse opinions—informed and non-partisan as well as ill-informed and biased—abound in the public sphere of debate. Rather than dive into the melee of opinion columns and policy prescriptions, we offer this piece as a resource to locals and boaters on the recent Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force recommendations and trans boundary guidelines and regulations with regards to being orca-wise. Regardless of the macro-level future of the region and our wildlife, being the best boaters we can be is something within our power whenever we hop aboard. As Mahatma Gandhi would say, be the change you want to see in the world!



TA S K F O R C E RECOMMENDATIONS If you truly want to be up to date on the issue, the full 148-page Southern Resident Orca Task Force Report and Recommendations (November 16, 2018) is available online at Don’t let the page count intimate you too much, as there are plenty of figures, citations, and the like that you needn’t dwell on too much. For the practical among us, the Recommendations section is the key for navigating our day-to-day lives. The good stuff is on pages 67 to 70; the Overview of Recommendations (aka cheat sheet) that succinctly describes all 36 recommendations, the lead and key partners for each recommendation, and jurisdiction (state, local, federal, etc.). Credit where credit is due, there are plenty of data-backed ideas, multi-organizational cooperation, and legislative transparency within these recommendations. There are also some redundancies and headscratchers. Here we include all the recommendations with our practical translations that explain how our boating lives are affected. We've organized them by number, in the order the recommendations are listed in the overview.


Significantly increase investment in restoration and acquisition of habitat in areas where Chinook stocks most benefit Southern Resident orcas.

TRANSLATION: Is it just us, or could you condense recommendations 1 through 5 as “protect salmon habitat”? For #1, wild Chinook salmon populations are in trouble, so state organizations are banding together to acquire and protect land deemed critical to Chinook stock success. If this has the desired effect, there should be more Chinook salmon for all, orcas and anglers alike. Recommendation #2 is made in a similar spirit as the first recommendation: Wild Chinook need more habitat. Funds were already approved during the 2018 grant round, so no new tax incoming this year. Recommendation #3 begs the question: Were we not applying and enforcing the laws previously? Regardless, more law enforcement staff are on the way, boaters should be ready to interact with The Man more often (see #18). Recommendation #4 also tackles Chinook salmon habitat protection but takes a legislative angle, with the squeeze aimed at aquatic and shoreline development projects and permits. Recommendation #5: The state wants to incentivize landowners to voluntarily protect their shoreline property and rope in cooperating conservation programs for volunteer efforts. Seems like a carrot vs. stick approach. Boaters can help by peer pressuring their landlubbing property owning friends on shore to participate and staying tuned for community service opportunities.

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