Starving Orcas: Article & Media Coverage with Scientist Ken Balcomb at Pier 66

posted Oct 30, 2016, 5:14 PM by Jeffrey Ventre   [ updated Oct 31, 2016, 7:03 PM ]
NOTE:  Links to news videos & articles are included at the conclusion of this article 

Scientists Ken Balcomb & Dr Deborah Giles, representing the Center for Whale Research, a retired Army Corps Engineer & Blackfish advocates met for a solemn press conference on Friday 28 October 2016. The press corps, orca lovers, at least one whale-watch boat captain, & concerned citizens bore witness and some provided signage on a mostly sunny day in Seattle. 


It's time to breach the four deadbeat dams on the lower Snake River, the primary reason this iconic clan of killer whales are heading for extinction, via starvation. It's a "win-win" scenario for the government, the fish, the orca, birds & bears, the tribes, fisherman, & the tax payer. In fact, it would represent the largest watershed restoration project in US history. In regard to living systems, dams are the equivalent of embolic strokes in the human brain, choking off river flow like a series of blood clots. 

Polaris, J-28, is dead due to a lack of food caused by a degraded river system. Southern Residents rely on the fatty Chinook salmon for their livelihood, which represent 75 to 90% of their diet. To make matters worse the whales must catch many more smaller fish these days, expending more energy than they've had to historically when Chinook salmon were abundant and much larger, on average. 

In a day, catching six 50 lb. fish is a lot easier than catching thirty 10 lb. fish. 

When Southern Residents starve, toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls, aka "PCB's," stored in blubber are metabolized, leading to high abortion rates, reducing successful pregnancies. Scientist Ken Balcomb, who has been studying this group of whales for 40+ years, spoke of the loss of J-28 & her calf, and provided video and still photographs of her emaciated body to reporters assembled at the end of Pier 66. Her death orphaned "Dipper" or J-54, who was born about 10 months ago. Polaris's first daughter "Star" or J-46 was seen trying to raise her orphaned sibling who is missing and presumed dead. Ken's recommendation, "we need to keep these whales well fed."

Unpublished NOAA data, based on tracking tags, has shown that the Southern Resident orcas spend about 20% of their time waiting for Chinook salmon at or near the mouth of the Columbia River; fish that simply aren't arriving. The Snake River is a tributary of the Columbia as seen below. This lack of fish has been attributed in large part to the four deadbeat dams on the Lower Snake River, which are a rip-off to tax payers, getting us 15 cents to every tax dollar spent. The good news is that the lower Snake dams have earthen berms, which means that the river simply needs to be redirected around the superstructures, as opposed to a series of expensive and massive demolition projects. The whole issue has been deadlocked for decades due to weak leadership and ineffective government and despite instructions from judges to "fix it." Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Senators Cantwell and Murray, as well as the President, need to be compelled to move on this issue. Their contact information is below.  All it takes is an executive order to breach these dams. Watch this 38 second video to learn why breaching these dams does not require an act of Congress.

Jim Waddell, Retired Army Corps Engineer Explains

Per this article published in 2015 by Oceana called, "The Orca - Salmon Connection

"On average, there is a major dam every 72 miles in the Columbia River Basin. The upper stretches of the Columbia and the Snake are impassible at the Chief Joseph and Hells Canyon dams, respectively. But salmon can navigate past some dams.

Eight federal dams managed by the Army Corps of Engineers – four on the lower Columbia and four on the lower Snake – are built with fish ladders for returning adult salmon. Among all human-caused impacts, however, dams have the greatest impact on salmon population recovery and survival. Dams have greatly reduced or eliminated historically accessible habitat, they reduce natural river flow important for out-migrating smolt, they increase water temperatures, they alter sediment flow, they have changed the makeup of fish communities resulting in increased salmon predation. What is more, the physical features of dams such as turbines and sluiceways directly kill both adult and juvenile salmon."

We're out of time. This issue has been studied for decades. We know the answer:  Breach the deadbeat lower Snake River dams that are inefficient and pathological. Everyone wins. Here's what happens when dams are removed: 


Five years after the world’s biggest river restoration project began, the Elwha River is once again free flowing and dam free.

Steps you can take to help save the Southern Residents include contacting these leaders and familiarizing yourself with the information provided in this article and at "The Southern Resident Killer Whale Salmon Initiative" [Sharon Grace, Dr Deborah Giles, Scott Herning]

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Send a message via Facebook (preferred)

Office of Governor Jay Inslee
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Send a message

Office of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
511 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Send a message

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Send a message

Sign a petition HERE

More coverage at The Orca Network including a recording of the live-stream HERE

Media Coverage from the Press Conference 

TV Station Video



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