Orcas are among the most intelligent animals on the planet and they are threatened by decreasing salmon population and climate change.
You’ve likely heard about J35, the Orca mum who’s been dragging her baby around the Pacific Ocean for the last 17 days.
It reminds me of The Truman Show (albeit in a sad and twisted way), where the world is following Truman’s life and mourning his heartbreak and tragedies with him, but without his knowledge. In this case, people have been tracking her progress and expressing sympathy through Twitter, or other social media.
Poor thing. It’s heartbreaking to think that… she doesn’t understand what happened and she kept hope for 2 weeks, “maybe he will wake up… until then I’ll carry him” She probably suspected after a few days but she didn’t wanna let go. Life… it can’t be perfect.
— Rain (@Astharteea) August 12, 2018
In this case, the mum’s calf died, and as an expression of grief (common in intelligent and social mammals), has been pushing the corpse around ever since. Until today, when she finally dropped the body.
As heartbreaking as this is, the bigger reason we should care is not for her mourning, but for the cause of her calf’s death and the plight of the species overall.
Orca Conservation Status
Orcas, part of the dolphin family, are highly intelligent and social. While most associated with the Pacific Northwest (namely Puget Sound and San Juan Islands), the Orca actually has a wider range than any other mammal other than humans. Because they have such a wide range, they are difficult to really track and not much is known about their overall status.
IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists them as “Data Deficient”, but we can make some guesses about how threatened they are.
The Scientific American says “Chief among threats to orcas there is loss of food supply, mostly West Coast salmon populations destroyed by hydroelectric dams and other human encroachment”
J35 lost her baby due to malnutrition. There simply is not enough salmon to support their population. The Pacific salmon (not a species, there’s five known) are threatened and endangered.
What can I do?
So while we should definitely empathize with this mother, our response shouldn’t stop there.
There’s several things you can do personally to start making a difference.
The way to save Orcas is to start by helping the food they eat and their habitat. Plastic pollution and climate change are two of the biggest factors for any marine animal.
Using less plastic, and recycling the plastic you use, is actually really helpful, even if it seems small. Only 23% of one-time-use plastic is recycled properly in the United States. One of the lowest rates among developed nations.
For salmon specifically, they are in trouble because it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to spawn. New dams and river projects are taking away their breeding grounds. Speak up to your representatives, if you’re in the areas affected.
If not local, you can also do your part by choosing sustainably sourced seafood. Learn more about wild vs. farmed salmon here. In short, keep eating wild salmon!
It sounds impossible, but small changes add up. You an also donate, which is a huge help!