Immediate Action Required for Southern Resident Killer Whales

Washington State – Decision makers with the federal and state government currently face a crucial judgment call. Without immediate intervention, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population almost certainly will disappear. Over one hundred other animal species that rely on Columbia River salmon for existence will be harmed.

As endangered salmon populations dwindle, the inaction of the federal and state government borders on the criminal. There is no middle ground in this scenario. As writes, “ESA-listed lower Snake River salmon cannot co-exist with the four lower Snake River dams. Either salmon or dams must go.”

"It costs more to kill Snake River salmon than to save them," says Dam Sense .org. Image: Dam

“It costs more to kill Snake River salmon than to save them,” says Dam Sense .org. Image: Dam

Salmon are a keystone species. Without them, an entire ecosystem will collapse. They are a critical species to the river system, in this case, the Snake River system. In 2000, a report by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found that salmon play a vital role in watershed health. These fish support 137 other species from birds to bears and otters to orca. Millions of people also rely on salmon and for native people, they retain an important central and cultural role.

The ecosystem in this region as we know it cannot survive without salmon.

All four Snake River wild salmon runs are threatened with extinction and listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act —

Fall Chinook are threatened, spring and summer Chinook are threatened, steelhead are threatened and sockeye salmon are endangered, the highest possible ESA listing. Despite claims of record runs the last several years by the Northwest Regional offices of the Corps, Bonneville Power Administration, and NOAA Fisheries Service, wild salmon stocks are close to extinction. And Chinook salmon account for 75-90 percent of SRKWs’ diet.

Most people are unaware of how close to extinction the wild salmon stocks are … research shows that these salmon will disappear in the next few years as their current levels do not even support survival when they should be supporting recovery … just over half of the wild salmon populations in the Columbia River basin are already extinct –

So how did we get here?

The short answer is dams. Four lower Snake River dams in particular. Gross mismanagement at the taxpayers’ expense backed by dubious explanations and shady science. Five times now, a court has ruled that under the Endangered Species Act the feds’ plan for salmon recovery is inadequate.

It costs more to kill Snake River salmon than to save them! –

A quarter of a century on and it’s almost over. We are out of time. The salmon are at dangerously low numbers and the iconic orcas of the Pacific Northwest are already starving to death. Rhapsody, J32, died carrying a near-formed fetus at the end of 2014. Her necropsy indicated an inadequate diet. In an April photograph of a breaching Doublestuf – J34, the orca was described as “grotesquely skinny.”

Towards the end of last month, the Center for Whale Research reported that Samish, J14, was missing and presumed dead. Polaris, J28, who at 23-years old and the mother of a 7-month-old calf and a 7-year-old daughter, was noted as “super-gaunt, and possibly within days of her death.” Her male calf’s survival, should Polaris die, is questionable. SRKW males remain with their mothers their entire lives. Even if the calf is weaned, studies have shown that when the mother dies, young males are three times more likely to die the year after their mother’s death.

The listing of a species as endangered makes it illegal to “take” (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to do these things) that species. Similar prohibitions usually extend to threatened species – NOAA Fisheries.

Allow me to sum this up.

The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to recover threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. Heading the charge for the protection of these endangered species is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Both share the responsibility for implementing the ESA.

According to Dam Sense, by 1999 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), now NOAA Fisheries, had determined that to recover ESA-listed Snake River spring/summer Chinook, the most risk averse action would include dam breaching. In fact, NMFS’ results demonstrated that for the ESA-listed Snake River fall Chinook and steelhead, dam breaching by itself would likely lead to recovery.

By 2002, a $33M, 7-year study by Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), narrowed the option down to four potential resolutions with analysis showing that breaching the dams had the highest probability of meeting the government’s salmon survival and recovery criteria. USACE curtailed this option in favor of transporting juvenile salmon around the dams and installing expensive hardware at the dams to make juvenile fish passage easier, which the Corps own study predicted would be slightly worse than doing nothing at all.  Neither improved fish survival. Fourteen years on and at a cost of an estimated $1B to taxpayers, Dam Sense reports that “salmon runs are in worse shape today than in 2002.”

So, why should we believe Dam Sense?

One name – Jim Waddell.

Not only is Mr. Waddell a retired Civil Engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers, he was also the Deputy District Engineer for programs during the Lower Snake River Feasibility Study. This is a guy that everybody (from the top down) should be listening to. Salmon are being dammed into extinction and genetically diluted by the introduction of hatchery salmon:

Waddell explains:

Federal fisheries biologists and reports show that lower Snake River wild salmon runs are within a few years of collapse, due to the near complete elimination of their wild genetics. These genetics that have evolved over tens of thousands of years are now being nearly wiped out by dilution from breeding with hatchery fish. This is important because hatchery fish cannot sustain more than a few generations before they collapse and require extensive human intervention. Further, hatchery stocks are not far behind in completely collapsing due to their dependency on wild salmon genetic input for survival.

Wild salmon face insurmountable odds. Image: Dam

Hatchery salmon are diluting wild genetics. Image: Dam

Combined, and at its basest level, the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population is doomed. They are directly linked to this fish for survival and government intervention has failed abysmally. Without Chinook salmon, this endangered population of orcas will die out. It really is that simple.

The death of wild orcas from starvation is as tangible at it gets. A resolution needs to be implemented now, and Mr. Waddell has tendered an affordable, credible solution. Our government agencies – both at the state and federal level, need to act immediately. No more talk, debate or inaction, the four dams on the lower Snake River must be breached, the taxpayers demand it.


Waddell recently managed a face-to-face conversation with Senator Patty Murray and Shawn Bills, Murray’s Legislative Director. Both of them were encouraged to directly contact Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy to press for movement on breaching the dams. Both salmon and orcas need your help to avoid extinction in the near future.

Despite this meeting, elected representatives in the Northwest are not doing all they can to save the salmon and orcas that we all love and cherish. Despite repeated requests to contact the Army Corps of Engineers in DC and initiate actions that will ask the Corps to breach the dams, elected officials are not acting. It is now up to those who love orcas to contact the Corps. Please fill out a “contact form” for USACE.

Here’s more you can do:

Visit this link to send an e-mail to decision makers

Visit the website and stay up-to-date with events on Facebook and Twitter

If you live in WA State, encourage Senator Murray and Governor Inslee to make a call or connect with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington DC.

Here’s a great site with pre-scripted tweets for each day of the week (scroll down)

Use the following Twitter handles:

Use the hashtags: #TearDownThoseDams #Blackfish

Join the three-day Tweet storm; Sept. 16-18 to officials who can breach the lower Snake River dams or influence those who can.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales need your help. Should we lose this population of whales, the only SRKW in existence will reside in captivity. Tokitae (Lolita) at the Miami Seaquarium is the only surviving member from a mass roundup and capture of this population of whales — a major factor for their endangered status listing. This cannot be allowed to happen. Orcas are dolphins too.

Image: Dam

Image: Dam

Watch the video below. Jim Waddell explains exactly how your taxpayer money is being used

Featured Image (Top): Polaris J28 (notched dorsal fin), was noted as “super-gaunt” by the Center for Whale Research. Image: Dam

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About Elizabeth Batt

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Elizabeth is a freelance writer, a former large animal nurse and a former certified NREMT. She is passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants and her work focuses on cetacean-related issues, including captive whales and dolphins. She graduated in psychology and sociology and lives with her family in beautiful northwestern Montana.

Author: Elizabeth Batt


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