The image of a grieving mother orca cradling her dead calf off Canada’s west coast is hitting media around the world, drawing critical attention to the Trudeau government’s decision to buy a pipeline that will drive up tanker traffic through the region.
Coast Protectors is urging supporters to tweet Trudeau immediately, after his own government acknowledged the risks the orcas face due to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
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“The Canadian government has admitted the Southern Resident Killer Whales face extirpation (local extinction) due to the increase of oil tankers through the Salish Sea,” the organization states. “In 2016, Canada’s National Energy Board stated in a report that Trans Mountain ‘is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the southern resident killer whale.’”
And now, “off the coast of British Columbia Canada, 75 Southern Resident Whales are slowly dying from a lack of Chinook salmon, their main food source since time immemorial,” Coast Protectors adds. “Salmon dams, shipping noise, and pollution are killing the whales—and the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project will be the final nail in their coffin.”
CBC reports that “the story of the southern resident J-pod orcas, and the mother mourning her dead calf, has drawn attention from around the world,” prompting the Twitter campaign focused on Trudeau. “Let’s jam their social media like tankers jam whale sonar,” Coast Protectors urges in its call to action. “Since J35/Tahlequah’s baby calf died, there has been an outpouring of grief around the world. Please help turn that grief into action.”
Twitter is the chosen tool, the organization adds, because “social media is where Trudeau’s Liberals like to brag about being ‘world class’ environmental leaders. The world needs to know that they are letting the 75 Southern Resident Killer Whales beloved to the West Coast go extinct.”
In the U.S., Greenpeace is out with a similar appeal, calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to enact a moratorium on tanker traffic through Washington State waters. “If it goes ahead, the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion could send 400 new tar sands oil tankers through these orcas’ habitat every year,” Greenpeace notes. “A moratorium on new fossil fuel traffic in Washington state waters would stop shipments from the new pipeline through the orcas’ habitat, and force the builders to back away from the project. But only a national call for bold, courageous action will make it happen.”
While Tahlequah grieves her calf’s death, CBC notes that another calf, four-year-old J50, is starving, showing signs of malnourishment and lethargy. University of Washington conservation biologist Deborah Giles said J50 has only grown to the size of a one-year-old, and its condition has deteriorated through the summer.
“I’ve personally never seen a whale that thin and still swimming around,” Giles told The Star Vancouver. “If she continues on this trajectory, we will lose her.”
In response, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “are considering a plan that would involve feeding the underweight killer whale chinook salmon with medication in it—a strategy the U.S. department believes hasn’t been used before,” CBC reports.
“We have no idea at this point if an attempt to provide food, or medication in the form of food, would be successful,” said NOAA public affairs officer Michael Milstein. “We want to go into this with our eyes open, in a situation where we could create a whale that’s dependent on us for food, that’s not going to do anyone any good.”
Milstein also stressed that “a lack of food is only one of the reasons southern resident whales are struggling,” CBC states.
“We really need to think about those other factors,” he said. “For instance, even if there is food, if there’s too much noise and they can’t use their echolocation to find that food, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.”
“It’s insane to be building this pipeline,” added Living Ocean Society Executive Director Karen Wristen, in an interview with Yale Environment 360. “There’s too much noise already in critical habitat, and adding 800 tanker trips a year (400 into port and 400 out) to existing levels of noise is not going to be possible” without further endangering the Southern Resident pod.
“Heartbreak for Tahlequah is an appropriate starting point,” notes oceans specialist Susan Casey, in a New York Times opinion piece that points to scarce, contaminated food as the most immediate threat the orcas face. “In a way, it’s the easy part. What’s harder is turning our shared sense of grief for this mother into an impetus to solve the problems plaguing the dwindling southern resident orca population. If we aren’t willing to turn our empathy into action, then one day in the near future we will explain to our children and grandchildren how incredible the orcas were, and how bad we felt about their fate. How their pain resonated with us and caught our attention. How deeply we felt their loss. Just not enough to do what was required to save them.”