Fate Of Pacific Northwest Orcas Tied To Having Enough Columbia River Salmon

Jul 11, 2017

Editor’s note: Research, tenacious advocates and $16 billion have lifted Columbia salmon from the brink of extinction. But the Northwest has yet to figure out a sustainable long-term plan to save the fish that provide spiritual sustenance for tribes, food for the table, and hundreds of millions of dollars in business and ecological benefits. This is part of a special series of reports exploring whether salmon can ultimately survive.

Just one of the three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales has shown up this year in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands northwest of Seattle, their summer home as long as researchers have followed them since 1976.

Deborah Giles, research director of the Center for Whale Research, said she isn’t concerned yet for the other two pods of fish-eating orcas. But she worries about what the next decade holds for the beloved sea mammals that share the Puget Sound with millions of people, thousands of boats and just a fraction of the salmon that historically were the orcas’ main food source.

If humans don’t make saving orcas and salmon a higher priority, she fears both will disappear. With just 80 individual orcas left, the southern resident population has the least amount of time.

One of the most important food sources is spring chinook salmon from the Columbia River. Orcas use the mouth of the Columbia as a winter “buffet,” stopping on their annual migration from their home in the Salish Sea south to Monterey, Calif., and north to southeast Alaska.

Read more at the Idaho Statesman.

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