Mayday Monday - Depleted Salmon Stocks

Primary Threat #1: Depleted Salmon Stocks

The fates of Resident orcas in the Pacific Northwest and their salmon prey are one and the same. The extent of this relationship is reflected in an old tribal adage, "no fish, no Blackfish." The availability and abundance of salmon is the most influential threat to the Southern Residents' recovery. Unless salmon stocks become more abundant, and available, the whales will not recover.


Salmon at Dagger Falls
a salmon leaps clear of the water at Dagger Falls on the Salmon River

Resident orcas' diet is highly specialized - they rely almost exclusively on salmon, and of that, at least 80% is Chinook.  A recent study analyzing the DNA remains of prey in the Southern Residents’ fecal remains confirmed that in the summer months, more than 98% of their diet is salmon – and about 80% is Chinook.  This level of specialization indicates that Chinook salmon were at one point much more abundant than now, and may have been the singular supporting resource for a once larger thriving population of whales. Current salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest are approximately 2% of historic levels. This dramatic decline is largely due to human activities related to hydro-electric dams, habitat degradation, overfishing, and hatchery impacts. Birth and survival rates of orcas are clearly related to coast-wide abundance of Chinook salmon. In years of higher Chinook runs, new calves are a source of hope. But, the fact that young Scarlet (J50) is the only calf since 2012 to definitely reach the one-year mark shows that sudden baby booms are short-term trends and that salmon runs may not be stable or large enough to support the whole population the next year. Drops in salmon stocks can have about a year or two of lag time to affect the size of the Southern Resident population. Recovery of both salmon and orcas will take decades. While it's greatly encouraging to see seven new calves added to the population in 2015, we will have to wait and see if they survive the crucial first year, and then live to reproduce and help population growth - an uncertainty largely dependent on how salmon fare in the near future.

 

Southern Resident orcas and Chinook salmon
the decline of Salish Sea salmon is one example of how reduced Chinook abundance can impact the Southern Resident orcas

The Southern Residents spend their summers in inland Washington and Canadian waters, and travel extensively along the West Coast of the US during the winter and early spring. When prey availability is especially limited, orca families travel over greater distances with more complex movement patterns, spending precious energy foraging for scarce resources. Since winter of 2000, K and L pods have been spending more time inland, later than normal, which is likely related to decreased salmon availability in their normal winter ranges along the outer coast. Expanding critical habitat can help to restore the coastal ecosystem and re-establish the traditional ranges of the Southern Residents.

Center for Whale Research Chinook abundance and Southern Resident mortality
Southern Resident mortality is closely correlated with coastwide Chinook abundance

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) oversees the legal protection of both the Southern Residents and endangered salmon species, but not nearly enough has been done to restore salmon and the conditions are quickly getting worse for wild populations. Climate change is expected to exacerbate an already serious situation - salmon are known to be sensitive to warm water temperatures, and the El Niño of 2016 is expected to severely impact the ocean food web. Protecting orcas will require protecting salmon, and to make those prey resources available, protecting the Southern Residents' foraging habitat along the West Coast will be essential to their recovery.

Help us expand the Southern Residents' critical habitat by signing our letter urging NMFS to protect this key foraging ground.

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Read more about WDC’s ecosystem recovery efforts to help imperiled salmon populations and the Southern Residents.

Comments

Protect the southern residents

Depleted salmon stock threatens the life of Orcas.

Expanded habitat sounds way better than hatcheries.

We only have one planet and a circle of like that needs to be preserved. Many wrongs have been made against this cycle by the hands of humans...let's start making it right and strengthen our cycle of life!!

You Tube Fukushima, there's nothing left for salmon to eat and the water is depleted of what they need from radioactivity...this is the beginning of the end. Only when the whales disappear from the Pacific will the MSM start talking about the reality of reactor 4 and previous devastation from Fukushima.

These majestic animals need help!

Please do what ever it takes to protect our Marine Life. Salmon are important to the survival of wild life

Destroy the fisheries, and you destroy the planet. No second chances.

It's time to quit studying the issue and actually take action. One action could be reduce or eliminate logging along the rivers, or begin cleaning up the agricultural runoff, these two actions could at least be a beginning.

We have to be mindful of all the creatures.

Please save all the creatures because we need them and survive.

Stop the dams and ban commercial fishing!! Humans have plenty of food to eat from the land, stop eating salmon and other fish and seafood!!!!

Humans must take responsibility for the havoc we are wreaking on the environment and all marine life. It is 100% up to us to reverse the damage we have done. If we do not act, many species of important marine life will become extinct.

The ocean is an interconnected ecosystem. One can't eliminate any part of it.

Save the Salmon/Save the Orcas/Save the Humans!

Please save the ocean life including Salmon and Orca's because it will help the human life.

Overfishing, pollution, greed of man has proven catastrophic to all living things. We humans must commit ourselves to a moral consciousness if we are to survive the perils that face us. There is no viable excuse for depleting natural resources that our creatures and our oceans depend to survive.

Take steps to restore salmon by removing unused dams. Restoring the salmon population is good for orcas and humans! Please expand and protect critical habitats for orcas. The time to act is now.

If we are going to save this planet, we need to start here.

If the oceans die, we die. The Orcas need the Salmon. We do not!

Once it's too late..IT IS TOO LATE

The orcas need the salmon. Humans do not. Humans have become glutinous. We are eating every damn thing on this earth. It will lead to our demise if it doesn't stop.

Salmon are somewhat glutinous, but humans are gluttonous! I love these malapropisms. But seriously, an initial decade of intense ocean fishery protection would reap enormous benefits for the planet. Historical levels of fish are unbelievable by today's standards. Salmon would choke the streams, fighting to get up to spawn. The outer banks on the east coast were thick with cod. Fish live long lives. They could come back if we just backed off. And fish farms are destroying wild salmon in many ways. Poisoning the estuaries, and infesting the wild young with sea lice among other things. I wish there was a global authority which could stop destructive ignorant behavior, with some muscle behind it. Gather up the drift nets and long lines, scoop up the plastic, stop the navy sonar, and on and on...

The survival and integrity of our oceans and their inhabitants are crucial for our own survival. Restore the salmon population. Orcas need the salmon for their survival. When one species dies, the ecosystem is compromised. That affects all marine life and our own survival, too.

Take steps to restore salmon by removing unused dams. Restoring the salmon population is good for orcas and humans! Please expand and protect critical habitats for orcas. The time to act is now.

Humans have to stop acting like we are the only species on the planet.

Let's do something about this issue today, before it is too late. There are a dwindling population of Orcas right now.

What is wrong with us? We are eating and trashing our Oceans and marine life to death! Doesn't anyone realize when the ocean dies we die with it? PLEASE put limits or better yet no taking of fish until the stocks are populated to a level where taking SOME will not threaten or deplete it.

Protect our southern resident whales and release their relatives in captivity. Time to honour the sentient beings for the gift that they are to our ocean

it's all part of maintaining the natural balance that has developed over millions of years. humans have destroyed the balance by their greed and glutony. if the balance is not returned, many will die, including whales, salmon and many other species.

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