1 dead whale, 1 sick: Recent news makes task force’s job more difficult

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Brigg's killer whale calf swimming in the Salish Sea. (Credit: Ocean EcoVentures)

SEATTLE — This has been an unusually rough week for news related to the southern resident killer whales.

On Friday, the Center for Whale Research reported that an orca known as L92 or “Crewser” was missing and likely dead. The report included notes that Fraser River salmon – the salmon that account for 80-90 percent of the southern residents’ diet – were returning in unusually low numbers.

Also, representatives from the Southern Resident Orca Recovery Task Force noted a 3-year-old female appears to be dangerously emaciated. They worry she will die.

Stephanie Solien, the co-chair of the orca task force, said the recent news further amplifies the task force’s goal of finding ways to save one of the Northwest’s iconic creatures.

“These whales are under a lot of stress,” Solien said. ‘We are feeling the urgency – both because of the most recent deaths and the plight of the population.”

The total number of southern resident orcas – now 75 – is the lowest it’s been in three decades.

Solien said everyone in the task force is committed to saving the local orcas. The task force is made up of 33 members from a wide range of backgrounds.

But compromise among a 33-member group is hard, and merely recommending laws and actually adopting them are two very different things.

Still, Solien sees bold action in the task force’s future.

“To a person … everyone came with the intention to do good work and help save the orca,” Solien said. “Everybody understands that we have something at stake at this.”

Solien said saving the orca doesn’t stop at task force recommendations. The legislature will need to give the recommendations teeth, and adopt some of the practices. In order to do that, the public needs to support the moves. And the public needs to make small changes to show their commitment to orcas, too.

“Homeowners may learn they should take more responsibility for how we maintain our home, what we put on our lawn, what we put down our drain,” Solien said.

Recent changes like a voluntary no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island do help, Solien said. She hopes it’s a precursor to whatever is the task force recommends in a draft release, slate for Oct. 1.

The next task force meeting is Aug. 7 in Wenatchee.

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