J-32, also known as Rhapsody, was a pregnant female Killer Whale who once swam with the 77 orcas that remain in the Salish Sea. Disturbingly, since 1998, 61 of those belonging to the Southern Resident clan have gone missing or deceased. In comparison, only 38 have been born and survived. But why are they dying? Should we care?
The latter question is answerable with a simple yes, we should care. The former question is more controversial, yet most all answers fall under the umbrella explanation of human action.
According to scientific research, the orcas belonging to the Pacific Northwest pods are among the most polluted marine mammals, due to their size and contaminated diet. During environmental historian Joseph Taylor’s recent talk at Simon Fraser University, he relayed disturbing facts to his audience regarding the blackfish in our Salish Sea. Taylor described how the Orca mothers lower their toxicity when lactating; thus, leading scientists to the conclusion that first born orcas receive more toxins, triggering a negative chain reaction among our local Pacific pods. Of the four clans in the North Pacific Ocean, the Southern Resident population represent the smallest, and are listed on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife endangered species list. However, a government controlled database does not exempt any marine mammal from human endangerment of our ocean and biosphere.
This phenomenon is not only a problem for marine biologists. Conservation diplomacy is a historical practice, as Kirkpatrick Dorsey’s intriguing book, Whales & Nations, details in his historic overview of whaling. His book represents the many ongoing and complex political and scientific relationships between humans and animals. Bioregional space is gaining increasing attention in the Northwest region, as experts question how to conceptualize geographic boundaries that humans pay attention to, but animals do not. Everything is connected, and our obsession with drawing lines geographically, politically, culturally, and academically only heightens the risk these animals face. Humans have failed on many occasions to cater to what is best for the majestic creatures beneath the sea.
So, what can you do today? Marine mammals, specifically those belonging to the whale and dolphin families, are receiving increasing attention around the world with the help of documentaries and television shows, such as Blackfish and Whale Wars; however, closing SeaWorld is only one of many necessary steps in order to prevent a regrettable outcome. Awareness and education are valuable tools, as is pressure upon those that control policy.
However, I propose an initial solution that you can accomplish right now. Take responsibility. I simply ask that you take a moment to reflect upon your own actions, which I can assure you somehow perpetuates the issues this article reflects, among many others affecting wildlife below and above the seas today. As Sylvia Earle, renowned marine biologist said, “Hold up a mirror and ask yourself what you are capable of doing, and what you really care about. Then take the initiative - don’t want for someone else to ask you to act.”