Who remembers Granny? Matriarch to the southern resident killer whales (SRKW); mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to many of the remaining 78 orcas? She was an oracle for the younger generations, passing on her knowledge on migration routes, feeding sites, and the best fish. Unfortunately, Granny died in January of this year at the incredible age of 105, but not before she was able to pass on her expertise to her family.
The SRKW represent the smallest ‘resident’ population found in the North American Pacific Ocean. Distinct from all other orca populations, they are so called because of their specialised diet; feeding largely on chinook salmon from the Columbia and Snake river basins, they spend long periods of time in these waters in order to feed. They are typically found in and around Washington State and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia a.k.a the Salish Sea, but are known to travel as far south as San Francisco during the winter and spring months.
The most amazing thing, as mentioned earlier, is that the remaining 78 orcas, distributed across three pods (named J, K, and L) are actually one large extended family; orcas are notoriously social animals who remain in close association for their entire lives. Each of the three pods has adopted its own distinctive dialect and is guided by an older matriarch.
During the 1960s and 1970s the SRKW were collected for exhibition in marine parks resulting in severe decline. The species is currently listed as Endangered in the U.S. and Canada. Despite conservation efforts, the species has failed to recover owing to the significant decline in chinook salmon populations; dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers prevent salmon reaching the ocean forcing predators, such as orcas, to hunt elsewhere for food. This results in the excessive expenditure of energy and a reduction in species fitness.
Cetus Research and Conservation Society
Cetus Research and Conservation Society are a marine conservation organisation operating off the coast of British Columbia. Cetus promote marine conservation issues, engage with fishermen and federal governments to promote safe practices, and minimise human disturbance with the aim of limiting impacts to wildlife. As part of their Straitwatch programme, Cetus monitor orca activity in relation to vessel activity, whilst promoting awareness on issues such as habitat degradation, decreased food availability, human disturbance, and noise pollution. Doing so increases public awareness and respect for the SRKW with the aim of minimising potential disturbances.
Why is conservation so important?
Not only would the loss of the SRKW mean the loss of a cultural icon, it would have disastrous impacts on their entire ecosystem. The loss of an apex predator like the orca causes extensive cascading effects, particularly when exacerbated by factors such as climate change, lowering ocean productivity and ecosystem health (this doesn’t just affect marine species, it affects humans too!).
Preserving the SRKW is both a moral obligation and vital for the conservation of marine ecosystems.
Being a wildlife charity, Cetus are dependent upon its volunteers and supporters/donors e.g. One Species…and you! Public engagement is at the centre of conservation; promoting current issues, obtaining support, educating the public on caring for their planet, and connecting people with their environment is just as important, if not more so, than the hands on work conservationists carry out in the field. Without this work conservation organisations wouldn’t succeed; public collaboration can be the difference between success and failure.
One Species conservation trip
To raise funds for their partners, e.g. Cetus, One Species manufacture and sell sustainable apparel. Each range of clothing represents a particular endangered species and 10% of each sale goes towards the respective project. Moreover, One Species meets with its partners in the field to personally witness their work, ensuring your money contributes directly to tangible causes.
At the end of June I am travelling to Vancouver as part of the One Species team to meet with Cetus. We will be personally introduced to the work Cetus are undertaking to help conserve the SRKW and we will be creating a mini documentary series to bridge the gap between the public and this conservation issue, continuing to educate and build a growing wildlife conservation community who share a common goal – fighting extinction. As mentioned earlier, this work is vital for the conservation of orcas, particularly considering their endangered status (78 individuals remain).
If you would like to support me and the team by donating to make this trip a success, then please head over to my gofundme page. Any support would be greatly appreciated!
Thank you 🙂