PRESS RELEASE – A Tragedy with a Silver Lining? And what we can do!

J-2 or ‘Granny’ is well known around the world as the 100+ year old matriarch of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. She was the oldest and most influential member of J, K and L pods, now numbering about 78 whales.  She was possibly the oldest killer whale on the planet.

Ian Roberts, a Captain at SpringTide Victoria Whale Watching, while on a winter whale watching tour, was with her pod, J pod on December 28, 2016 in Haro Strait. She was not with them, although a whale very close to her in recent years was there – Onyx, L-87.  She has not been seen since mid-October.  Ken Balcomb at The Center for Whale Research reported that she has been missing since October 12, 2016 and is now presumed dead.

L87 Onyx seen without matriarch Orca J2 near Victoria BC in December 2016
L87 Onyx is regularly seen travelling with J2 Granny. She was nowhere to be seen at the last sighting of him with the Southern Resident Orcas of J Pod on Dec 28 2016.

The structure and culture of the Southern Resident Killer Whales evolved when the Fraser River was producing large amounts of Chinook or King salmon.  This is no longer the case; salmon stocks are greatly depleted stressing this endangered orca population. Numerous studies have shown the dependence of the SRKW population on the abundance of Chinook salmon.

The loss of the Granny, the Grand Matriarch, places the population at a pivotal point. The SRKW Orcas will now re-organize their hierarchy and structure. Change will happen as different Orcas have differing influences on group decisions.

SILVER LINING?

Is it possible that a reorganized SRKW population evolves into a structure and culture that reflects the new reality of depleted Chinook salmon stocks? Rather than a structure based on the better days of an abundant Chinook salmon population?

It’s possible the pods could split into smaller groups of 4-6 whales from the 20-30 strong pods, based around a mother and her offspring. Such a smaller group would put less feeding pressure on any school of salmon it encounters.  Smaller groups could cover greater territory as they independently search for salmon.  Transient Killer whales use smaller group sizes while hunting seals and other mammals in this area. A recent trend to smaller group sizes is also being observed in the SRKWs while hunting and feeding.

Can the loss of Granny spur the changes needed for the SRKW to better survive in a different prey environment? Will it spur us on to change our policies and behaviours that decimated Salmon stocks? Continued survival of these endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales will only be achieved by putting more food on the proverbial table. Never was it more important to push for the restoration and rehabilitation of Chinook salmon stocks.

WHAT WE CAN DO TODAY

There is an initiative currently underway which is working on Chinook salmon restoration and increasing their numbers where they are most needed.  This is key for the sustainability of the SRKWs.

Contact us to learn more, and contribute at: www.AnglersCoalition.com.

Press Contact: Dan Kukat, President, SpringTide Whale Watching,