Eating salmon is killing the Orcas!

orca with dead baby

Our taste for salmon is killing the orca whales. The southern resident orcas which inhabit the waters of the Salish Sea between the US and Canada, and the outer coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, are starving to death. They just can’t find enough of their primary food source, chinook salmon, to keep themselves well-fed. There are currently only 74 of them in the three pods of this group, down from a peak of 98 in 1995. Struggling to survive in hostile waters, the southern residents have not successfully reproduced in three years.

The three pods in question are estimated to need collectively in the order of 350,000 chinook per year.  But chinook salmon themselves are also endangered, and yet each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas. Do you see something wrong with this picture?

We humans are the main predator of the salmon, and yet we are not willing to reduce our fishing for salmon to leave more for the orcas. A recent study by the Southern Resident Orca task force, set up by Governor Jay Inslee, issued 36 recommendations to help save the orcas, but only two of these related to fishing. Unfortunately most of the recommendations look at long-term issues, but these orcas need immediate help right now.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whales,” says Kurt Beardslee, of the Duvall-based nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

One thing we can all do is to cut back on our demand for salmon, by stopping eating them. While consuming salmon is a long-standing tradition in the Pacific Northwest, it’s time to show that we care more about the graceful orcas than our traditions, and that we don’t want to take food away from them.  It’s time to establish some delicious new traditions, based around eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, that don’t require the consumption of fish or other animals.

Learn more about the impact of fishing on our oceans.