On 11-12th of October a symposium was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. People from the Government of Canada, the private sector and researchers gathered in Vancouver Convention Center to discuss the situation and solutions to the endangered and declining population of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in the southern Salish Sea. This season we are seeing record low sightings of Southern Resident Killer whales and the time they spent in the Salish Sea is less than 5% of the average. Instead of weekly or even monthly visits in the inland waters during salmon runs, SRKW have this year only been seen on a few days. This is all connected to the lack of salmon, especially Chinook Salmon the main prey for SRKW!

Orcas of J-pod and K-pod with Springtide whale watching. Southern Resident Killer Whales
Southern Resident Killer Whale calf “Nova” coming up next to mom.

Springtide Whale Watching owner and captain Dan Kukat attended the symposium and took part in a panel discussing this issue with more than 300 people in the audience. Captain Dan is representing The Pacific Whale Watchers Association PWWA, something we are very proud of
here at Springtide Whale Watching that our owner and captain is taking a lead role in saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales!

Watch a news clip from this week when Captain Dan was interviewed by Chek News: Saving Southern Resident Killer Whales

Captain Dan talked about important key factors in the decline of SRKW and what we can do right away to try saving them. With only 76 individuals left, TIME is something that we don’t have and we need to take actions immediately instead of doing research. We know what the
problem is, Prey abundance. Prey abundance. Prey abundance. Or rather, the lack there of.

“It’s all about quantity and quality of Chinook salmon. Anything else is a distraction. Period. Focusing on anything else WILL kill them all. We don’t have the luxury of time”.

– Dan Kukat, PWWA

Spyhopping Resident Killer Whale, Southern Resident Killer Whales
Spyhopping Southern Resident Killer Whale

The recent loss of young SRKW calf J52 “Sonic” is a proof that the whales are starving. This is from the report issued by the Center for Whale Research:
“As of 19 September, another Southern Resident Killer Whale, J52 – a two and a half year old male born during the so-called Baby Boom of 2015/2016 is deceased, presumably from malnutrition. His obligatory nursing ended more than a year ago, and his life was dependent upon salmon that have become in short supply this summer. He was last seen alive near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 15 September 2017, and photographs taken at the time reveal severe “peanut-head” syndrome associated with impending death. Young J52 was accompanied by his mother (seventeen and a half year old, J36) and an adult male (twenty-six year old L85, potentially his father) at least five miles away from the other members of J and L pods that were foraging within a mile or two of the coastline from Camper Creek to Bonilla Point west of Port Renfrew, British Columbia. The observation of this sad event was at sunset, and the young whale appeared very lethargic while barely surfacing as the two adults were swimming around in circles and not feeding while attentive to the young whale. We estimated J52 was within hours, if not minutes, of death at the time, and he was not present during the J pod foray into Puget Sound on 19 September, though his mother and L85 were.”

– Center for Whale Research

resident orcas, Southern Resident Killer Whales
L pod calf L123 “Lazuli” breaching next to mom L103 “Lapis”.

What we can do to improve the situation for the Southern Resident Killer Whales is to increase the numbers of Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea. Here is what Captain Dan and the PWWA presented on the symposium and asked the Minister, The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc to support:
“As much as we support genetically diverse wild Chinook salmon, and we certainly do, the wild salmon policy in its past form has stalled salmon enhancement and may be the cause of Chinook declines. Can we realistically significantly increase wild salmon production in the short
term?  If a viable plan is produced we would be supportive.

The recovery from 71 whales in 1974 to about 100 in the 1990s coincides with a very successful hatchery program. Just a side note abstraction that may need mentioning.

The Sooke River Chinook Initiative is an excellent example of what can be done, and can be done quickly to put more food on the table. It’s an egg to smolt – salt water rearing with an acclimation enclosure. Imprinting the homing instinct of the Sooke River as the destination spawning river. They are released under the cover of darkness while predators are roosting and hauled out and on a high slack ride to assist them departing the estuary and get to safer water before first light. This is to greatly increase their initial survival. Extremely successful. 203,000  Chinook released, of which 100,000 were coded wire tagged and fin clipped. 500,000 approved for 2018. There is a way of imprinting and out planting these fish to other locations to get greater community involvement and at the same time have them return no further east than the Sooke River. Including the recreational fisher persons and local First Nations is key to the success of this project. Recreational fisher persons’ conservation efforts exceed all. Closing them out of a fishery would be detrimental to the cause. We believe a workable solution includes the recreational fisher’s efforts and the only way to get that is to continue to provide access.
That’s the only project I am aware of on the Canadian side of the border that is attempting to contribute to an increase in the diminishing prey abundance for the SRKW.
$7.2 million.
We don’t ask for $7.2 million for this project.
We are hereby requesting the Minister, The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, to provide access to

7.2 million Chinook eggs for this spring so that we can rear, imprint and out-plant these Chinook smolts. This is the only solution that’s on the horizon that shows any sign of being able to respond in the short time that is available.
MR. MINISTER PLEASE HELP FEED THESE STARVING WHALES.”

– PWWA

Southern Resident Killer Whales
Resident orca L92 Crewser!

We at Springtide Whale Watching is hoping that the Government is reacting to this. We are running out of time if we want to save the Southern Resident Killer Whales in our waters. Loosing more of them would be devastating and a Salish Sea with no SRKW is a sea we hope we never have to experience. The time to react is now!

For more killer whales photos visit our Facebook page!

Want to know the difference between a transient and resident killer whale? southern-resident-vs-transient
Marcus Bergstrom, Naturalist at Springtide Whale Watching.