Wrong Times For the Right Whale

Right Whale, right photo - courtesy of NOAA

Why have the past few months been the deadliest in decades?

Scientists are puzzled and looking for a solution as to why over 12 north atlanticAtlantic right whales have died in the past 2 months. A whale carcass was initially discovered in “west of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine in the south-central area of the gulf.” Since then 11 more have been found around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

As the situation becomes increasingly complex, the government is looking for public help. One campaign by the governmentgovernment campaign, showcased on letstalkwhales.ca, outlines a variety of threats to the right whale. It indicates hazards such as entanglements, vessel strikes, and insufficient food supply as possible threats. However, these do not explain why right whales are dying at such an increased rate. With only 525 of these endangered whales remaining, the twelve deaths represent a critical 2% of their population.

Scientists, such as  senior researcher Amy Knowlton at the Anderson Cabot Center Amy Knowlton, are directly investigating the cause of these deaths. This has come in the form of an autopsy on a deceased right whale named Peanut. Maclean’s notes that these types of whales are easily identifiable, as “The callosities (rough, irregular skin patches) form unique patterns that act like fingerprints”. The whale Peanut though, “was known and named for the nut-shaped white scar on his head.” The results of this autopsy have yet to be released, however.

In the meantime, officials are rushing to bolster preventative measures. Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc recently addressed these deaths in a news conference. The CBC reports that “Transport Canada has been working together on ways to ensure the safety of right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but it presents challenges due to the volume of shipping and marine traffic in the area. It's not a typical environment this time of year for the 80 to 100 right whales currently feeding in the area, LeBlanc said, and a notice to mariners to slow down was issued last week.”

Contemporary threats to whales have been examined. The Canadian Department of Ocean and Fisheries’ previously reported  issues such as stronger ropes by fisherman causing damage to the whales. One excerpt explained that “They recommended that ropes of reduced breaking strength be developed and tested in fixed gear fisheries, as they could contribute significantly to reducing entanglement risk while supporting viable fisheries,”

These reports and conservation efforts will take time before coming into effect. However, the marine programs manager for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Sean Brilliant, notes that “Now they’re sort of looking for options of what to do and it’s an encouraging thing,”

This shift to conservation for the right whale is a drastic change from earlier years. Commercial fishing for right whales almost drove them to extinction in the early 1900s. The rRight whales first experiencedfirst  attempts at protection protecting the right whales was in the 1930s, by with the “Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.” NOAA Fisheries remarks though, that Japan and the Soviet Union did not acknowledge this agreement. Therefore, it wasn’t until  the “International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling” in 1949, before whales were truly protected.

As these mysterious whale deaths continue to rise, the government is intensifying measures to prevent the right whale from being driven to extinction, as they almost were during the peak of unregulated commercial fishing. Leblanc states “The government is prepared to ‘take all necessary steps.’”

Ben Wagg is a fourth year English Literature and Medieval Studies major at the University of Victoria and a volunteer for Skaana.com. 

Southern Resident Orca Update: RIP Sonic & #stopkm


When we set out to launch the Skaana podcast there were 83 Southern Resident orcas in the Salish Sea. 

Today there are 76.

We’re losing matriarchs, we’re losing babies. The Center for Whale Research just declared that J52, Sonic, was missing and presumed dead. The last images of Sonic showed that he was starving to death.

J52 and Mom

J52 and Mom

Our latest episode of Skaana is a special news bulletin with an update on the status of the Southern Resident Killer Whales and what's happening in Canada and the US to help save this unique community. 

These orcas are starving.

Here’s the news release from The Center for Whale Research.

The Southern Residents need Chinook salmon. The salmon run this year, was more of a salmon walk.

Meanwhile, Canada's National Energy Board — which pretty much never met a pipeline they didn’t like - declared that if everything goes perfectly according to plan with the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, if not a drop of oil is ever spilled that the increased tanker traffic will have “significant adverse effects” on the southern resident orcas.

A population of 76 can not survive "significant adverse effects."

Kinder Morgan equals extinction - which is the case EcoJustice is making in their court challenge on behalf of the orcas.

The court challenge started TODAY. Pro-whale campaigners - and campaigners dressed as whales - were on the stepsof the Vancouver Art Gallery on Monday October 1st.

Over the next two weeks lawyers from Eco-Justice and a variety of environmental groups, First Nations and other governments will be fighting to #stopkm.

Meanwhile, In Washington State, there is a demonstration in honor of Sonic outside Sen. Patty Murray's office on October 6. Demonstrators are demanding the immediate removal of the Snake River Dam to save the salmon to save the whales.

Experts on both sides of the border are no longer shying away from the E Word. "Extinction."

Not long ago we lost Granny - J2 - the world’s oldest orca and the matriarch of the southern residents. The last known photo of Granny shows her feeding a salmon to a baby whale - because that’s what orcas do.

Granny's last meal...

Granny's last meal...

Older orcas will give up their food, they will risk their freedom, they will starve to death to save their babies.

It’s time for Canada and the US to look at fisheries closures… Now. To give up our food - and pass on some primo sushi - to save these orcas.

In upcoming episodes, we’ll have guests in to talk about what needs to be done NOW to save this community, this unique culture. 

We're featuring this art by Tasli Shaw to help get the word out. Please share it.

If we’re going to save these orcas, this unique future, we need to save the Chinook.

And this needs to happen NOW.


Orca whale superpod comes to Vancouver to attend Kinder Morgan court challenge

The EPA on the status of the Southern Resident Orcas

The Pull-Together Campaign to #STOPKM

J-52's Death Raises Fears of Extinction - Victoria Times Colonist

The Strategy to Fight Kinder Morgan in Court - National Observer

Orca calf death prompts call for action

Young endangered orca likely died of malnourishment: Researchers

Federal fish policy a flop, study finds

Alexandra Morton on wild salmon, sick salmon & the Sea Shepherd

Alexandra Morton (@alex4salmon) is one of Canada’s most famous eco-activists. The best-selling author’s fight to save the west coast’s wild salmon attracted the attention of the Sea Shepherd Society and  launched Operation Virus Hunter - a mission to publicize Morton’s research into open sea salmon farms. Tune in if you care about oceans, orcas, salmon or sushi.

“I’m determined not to let these salmon go down on my watch.”

Skaana podcasts connect you to news and experts and their discussions about environments, oceans, and orcas.

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Show Notes:

  • Court battles and diseased fish [5:00]
  • Illegal spooning [5:53]
  • The impacts of sea lice [6:45]
  • The lawsuit and a cleansing ceremony [8:18, 8:27]
  • First Nations versus fish farms  [8:40]
  • Seeking justice with Eco-Justice [9:57]
  • The battle for testing diseased salmon [13:20]
  • How the  disease impacts the fish[15:08]
  • Wild salmon losing the strength to swim [15:53]
  • Trying to stay in the “wonder phase” of biology and her reluctant shift into  activism [17:26]
  • Farmed salmon vs. wild salmon [22:39]
  • Those in government are up against something that the rest of us can’t see [23:01]
  • We could ask the fish what they need by testing their immune systems [26:53]
  • Keystone species [28:20]
  • Salmon impact oxygen levels [28:42]
  • Making political and ecological decisions by looking at systems working together rather than individual parts to exploit [34:10]
  • The first time she saw a whale [35:38]
  • Childhood interest in non-human communication [36:07]
  • Falling in love with whales by filming a birth in captivity [37:02]
  • Identifying orcas with Michael Biggs  [39:25]
  • Studying orca language [41:50]
  • Studying dolphin language with John Lilly [42:20]
  • Memories of Corky [45:30]
  • Saved by the orcas [47:40]
  • Whale babies unable to feed in captivity [53:00]
  • Call associated with synchrony [54:26]
  • Orca audio [55:55]
  • Siwiti - her bestselling book that teaches kids about orcas[59:50]
  • Jane Goodall opened the door [101:20]
  • How you can make waves [102:04]
  • And much more....

Significant quotes:

“87% of the young salmon leaving parts of this coast… are heavily infected with sea lice.” [6:50]

“They [First Nations] do not want salmon farms in their territory. They’ve been saying “no” for thirty years and yet one third of the salmon farming industry in British Columbia is in their territory. And all the waste from these farms is pouring out whether it’s viruses, bacteria, drugs, fish waste.” [7:56]\

“I have to wonder, does he really know that he’s fighting me so that Marine Harvest and Surmac, whose owned by Mitsubishi, can put diseased Atlantic Salmon into the major migration routes of this coast? I just can’t believe that he actually know that this is going on. Just on the surface it looks really bad.” [14:25]

“I was so convinced that if I lined up my words in the right order, remained calm, and gave them [DFO] all the evidence they would say, ‘oh, oh, oh, oh, there’s a better way to do this. Let’s get them off the migration route, let’s put less farms here…’ But no, they never listened to me. That began to concern me.” [19:56]

“We all had such high hopes, and honestly this Minister is doing worse than Stephen Harper. I mean, we had the worst sockeye return ever in the history of studying sockeye. The DFO did not even blink. They don’t care. They don’t want wild fish. That is my assessment after years, decades of being on this.” [25:30]

“Canada could become this remarkable leader in land-based aquaculture, which the markets want, and restoring wild fish using genomic profiling. I tell you, every country would come knocking on our door and saying, ‘How did you do that Canada?’” [27:55]

“Keystone species means that if that species is removed, things start to collapse. It means it’s the key to the lock that opens the door to the whole ecosystem. Some people say to me, ‘ I don’t eat salmon, so I don’t really care.” Well, do you breathe? Because salmon are feeding the trees that make the oxygen that we breathe.” [28:20]

“You can actually measure the size of the salmon run by looking at the growth rings of the trees.” [29:03]

“They also feed over 1000 species from bugs, to orca, to eagles and bears, coastal communities. They are essential to First Nations culture and diet.” [29:30]

“The gains financially, emotionally, spiritually and in every way are so much greater for wild salmon than farmed salmon” [30:21]

“From the moment the salmon egg leaves the mother’s body, it’s feeding the world around them. There’s not a lot of species that are designed to feed the masses. They can feed all of us and thrive. They are so remarkable and they’re such a gift. They’re so important. They are a bloodstream. I don’t say that lightly. They go out into the open ocean and they are gathering the energy of the sun hitting the ocean. Because the sun hits the ocean and it creates this good plankton bloom which feed little fish, and then the salmon eat those fish. Then they bring that all back home and they defy gravity and they take it up the watershed and they feed the trees. Somehow we have lost that memory, that connection, that understanding. Sometimes the government feels to me like a berserk person on a lawnmower and he’s running over all the power cords and he’s cutting all the lines to our house. We’re not gonna have any hot water. ” [31:24]

“Honestly, it’s a form of insanity where you cannot see the workings of life. Where you can’t see the gears and all of that is happening. You think you can just break all of that and get away with it. We’re not going to survive with this attitude.” [31:35]

“People in British Columbia maybe don’t grasp how incredibly fortunate we are that we haven’t taken it completely apart. We’re getting there- we are disassembling it. [33:43]

“I feel that a place on earth that still make clean air, water and food - whoa a covenant needs to placed on that right now. People in British Columbia  maybe don’t grasp how incredibly fortunate we are that we haven’t taken it completely apart…” [34:02]

“We talk about robbing from future generations, but I have an 18 month old grandson,  and it’s really hard to look him in the eyes because we are taking away everything that I love and that he would love. We’re taking away the richness of life. We’re taking away the ability to survive. It really is a form of insanity that we do not act on this.” [34:30]

“I believe that Justin Trudeau is a good man… I believe that Dominique LeBlanc, our minister of fisheries, is probably a good man. He probably loves his children. They probably both do. And yet what they are both doing to their children, and ours, and us, and the whales, is unforgivable.” [35:05]



Support Alexandra Morton

On Twitter: @alex4salmon

Blog: http://alexandramorton.typepad.com

Official Website:  http://www.alexandramorton.ca

Follow on Facebook:  https://m.facebook.com/alexandramorton.wildsalmon/

Documentary:  http://www.salmonconfidential.ca

Legal Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/fightfishfarmslegal


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Calling Canada Out: How Nice Are Our Environmental Policies?

Special guest post by Skaana volunteer Emma Eslake

Photo (Mark Leiren-Young) Trudeau: Home of the Whopper? 

Photo (Mark Leiren-Young) Trudeau: Home of the Whopper? 

Stereotypes can be harmful. Coming from a country whose people are known for being “nice,” they can even be dangerous. Comparing ourselves to a country the world knows has more controversial policies and politicians than us, with a president who actively promotes violence and bigotry, is not winning, it’s just not losing. And that's not enough. Especially not when our environment and our wildlife is at stake. In Canada, our environmental policies have a long and strong history of taking a back seat to our economic policies. While Justin Trudeau may say he is determined to find a way to reconcile both, his policy record thus far proves otherwise.

            Given the new administration in the US, it is easy to look at our country and feel nothing but pride. Canada has managed to regain its top spot on the Reputation Institute’s 2017 list of most reputable countries in the world. And who wouldn’t be proud of this? It measures not only the effectiveness of the government, but also the economy and the environment. But is it an accolade we deserve?

            We hide behind our stereotypes and the controversies of others. It is time we acknowledge that, yes, while Donald Trump wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, and there are near constant debates about the existence of climate change in the US, our environmental policies aren’t perfect. Take a look at the animals on the Species at Risk Act (SARA) list. The Southern Resident Orcas are listed as endangered and under federal protection according to the SARA website. Orcas have been on the list for over a decade, but little has been done to protect them from extinction or to promote population growth as per SARA's mandate. In fact, it was not until a number of environmental NGOs put forth a lawsuit that a plan of action was even drafted by the government. Ultimately, even after a second iteration, the plan of action failed to address some key concerns, such as the availability of salmon for these orcas to eat and noise pollution that interferes with their communication and echolocation.

            The extreme ineffectuality of the Species at Risk Act is failing to protect endangered species and, in some cases, is putting them more at risk because it leads people to believe the government is helping these animals when it isn’t. Orcas are only one of hundreds of animals on that list and while there may be some success stories, many animals are overlooked in favour of economic practices.

            When the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement, Trudeau did not hesitate to express his disappointment that they appeared to be moving backwards, while everyone else appears to be dedicated to protecting the earth for future generations. Canada has set a goal to lower our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to the levels from 2005, and when Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister, many hoped Canada’s environmental policies would improve under his leadership. He not only acknowledged climate change and the harm it does, but told us that our environmental and economic policies would align. It quickly became clear this was not going to be the case after he approved the Kinder Morgan and LNG pipelines.

            In fact, while our country has set a clear goal to lower our GHG emissions in the next thirteen years, the LNG pipeline could become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the entire country. While it is currently on hold, as the Malaysian company Petronas set to finance it has pulled out, it is not dead, so it could still pose a massive threat to the population of wild salmon living in the rivers in the area. It would stop them from entering the oceans, thus further reducing the food supply for orcas and other marine life who need those fish to survive.

           We might not have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but we are not set to meet any of our environmental goals for 2030. It even appears that we could still be heading in the wrong direction. We might be considered the most "reputable" country in the world, but we have a long way to go before we should be comfortable holding that weight on our shoulders - when we can declare with pride that we are doing what we can to live up to our stereotype as a “nice” country.

Emma Eslake is 20 years old and going into her fourth year at the University of Victoria, working towards an Anthropology degree. She grew up in Pemberton, a small town in B.C., with three other siblings on an alpaca farm. She is a proud feminist with a passion for writing and a love of learning, especially about human and animal rights and environmental issues.


The Biggest Celebrity Death of 2016?

The World's Oldest Orca is Missing, Presumed Dead

I'm not a big fan of denial, but today I'm waiting to hear that someone out there on the Salish Sea has spotted the matriarch of the Southern Resident orcas breaching in the starlight. Resident orcas rarely leave their pods, but maybe at the age of 105 Granny felt like some "me" time.

The Center for Whale Research announced today that Granny was last spotted Oct. 12th. They waited until January 2nd (J2) to share the news that she is "missing and presumed dead." Weighing in at several tons, Granny (J2) would be the biggest celebrity death of a year that seemed toxic to A-listers. 

I'm in post-production on a documentary I directed about Granny called The Hundred Year Old Whale and just over a year ago our star put on a magical performance for us. The first night we were out filming on the water Granny swam up to our boat and slapped her tail, spy-hopped and breached -- on camera. Apparently, she decided that after over a century it was time for her close-up.

I'm a longtime Patreon patron, but new to Patreon as a creator. I'm here to share the stories of our orcas and our oceans, to spread awareness about how to s

ave them before it's too late.  I'm launching a podcast soon, but tonight I just wanted to share a link to memories of  Granny from Ken Balcomb - a man who has been watching Granny and her family for the Center for Whale Research - for all of us --  since the 1970s. Ken's license plate reads "J1RIP" - a dedication to Ruffles, the whale he believed to be Granny's son or, possibly, brother.

There's some debate over Granny's age - was she really born the same year humans finished building the hull of The Titanic? We'll never know. But no one doubts  she's a very old whale (even skeptics guess her age at near 80), which likely makes her the oldest orca on the planet.  And a vibrant one. For the last few years she has been the constant companion of a male whale from LPod, Onyx.  Male whales seldom live for long  without a mother by their side, so this doesn't bode well for L87.

If Granny is truly gone hers would be the fifth death in the Southern Resident family since this summer, leaving the world with only 78 orcas left from this unique community. This is a community with their own cultural traditions - their own languages -- that  dates back hundreds of thousands of years.  And as the first orcas ever taken captive, these are the whales that helped the world fall in love with whales.

I'm not prepared to write "RIP J2" yet. For now I'll pray for her to surface.  And I'll hope that her story inspires people to do what's needed to protect the rest of her family and all the other orcas in the Salish Sea.