The skinny whales of the Salish Sea

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Orca photo by Jeanne Hyde

The killer whales of the Salish Sea, which lies between mainland Washington state and Vancouver Island, are sometimes skinny. They are undernourished, underfed and starving. They have “peanut heads” and they suffer an increased chance of dying.

Endangered killer whale of Salish Sea – photo Jeanne Hyde

And they are disappearing. The whale spotters in that area such as Jeanne Hyde are noticing that they are no longer turning up. The summer of 2017 was the worst year on record for sightings of this endangered killer whale according to Ken Balcomb, a biologist and a founder of the Centre for Whale Research.

So why are these whales so skinny and starving? Well, they live off the fatty Chinook salmon. This salmon makes up the bulk of their diet. And this species of fish is becoming rarer and rarer in the area. So why is the Chinook salmon population declining?

Human activity linked to salmon decline

Salmon are an iconic species of the Salish Sea say the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are important for local fisheries and as mentioned above for the whales, a top predator, of that area. The EPA say that the decline in Chinook salmon is linked to, habitat change, harvest rates and hatchery influence. The latter two are directly to do with human activity and the first item is to do with environmental change, as I understand it, which is indirectly linked to human activity.

In fact, the EPA say that additional factors contributing to the decline of salmon populations include climate change, ocean conditions and marine mammal interactions.

I would like to focus on climate change as a factor which is also listed as a possible factor for the decline in Chinook salmon of British Columbia, Canada. Some scientists believe that the decline there is to do with the warming and acidification of the ocean which affects the food web that salmon depends on.

There is a general consensus that global warming is impacting salmon numbers in the two areas specified. It doesn’t matter how you look at it but the three listed items for the decline in salmon populations are all human -related. This is about the human-animal relationship, the title of this website.

Protests

In London, there is an ongoing high profile protest happening right now. A group calling themselves Extinction Rebellion are defeating the police by allowing themselves to be arrested in large numbers by occupying Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus – main thoroughfares – which stops commercial activity causing financial loss.

The middle class elite in general dislike these people. They might refer to them as layabouts, people living on benefits, and other derogatory labels. Others, support their actions. I am one of those people because what they’re doing is generating a dialogue. On the radio today there is an ongoing dialogue about climate change (all day – great). A lot of good people, experienced people, are switched on about climate change and they appreciate Extinction Rebellion’s protest (e.g. Chris Packham).

It the reactionaries, the elite and the politicians who dislike them. The political elite are shortsighted. They tend to brush climate change under the carpet. Unless they can see it and feel it it doesn’t exist for them. But we must think of the future. We can’t mortgage the future to enjoy the present. That’s why UK students have also protested en masse about climate change. They are forcing politicians, the adults, their parents, to think about it and take action. The action must be immediate.

Sir David Attenborough, perhaps the most authoritarian voice on the planet and on wildlife makes it clear that we have to act now on climate change. There are many new technologies such as carbon capture which can be deployed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Britain are doing quite well on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. China is a major culprit. As I understand it 32% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions emanate from China.

China is a powerhouse of manufacturing but they achieve it with coal burning power stations. They achieve it by cutting costs in ignoring environmental issues. They don’t take on the burden of protecting the environment in their manufacturing processes. Pressure must be put upon China to change their ways.

People like president Trump also must change their ways because he declares that climate change does not exist. Trump is more interested in economic profitability and the creation of jobs over long-term environmental issues. I understand that but there’s no getting away from the fact that we have to deal with climate change. It’s a people created problem which is severely affecting us and other species on the planet.

Unless we deal with it urgently the planet will reach a threshold whereby we cannot stop it any more. Even if we do attain a carbon neutral environment today global warming will still continue but hopefully at a much reduced rate such that the environment will be acceptable for future generations.