What you can do to #RememberTahlequah and protect our Southern Resident orcas

With only 73 individuals left, and others far underweight, scientists fear the Southern Resident orca population is reaching a tipping point towards extinction. The orcas are telling us clearly that they, and their Puget Sound home, are in trouble.

The deaths of Crewser, Tahlequah’s calf, and Scarlet in the summer of 2018 are a stark reminder that if we fail these whales now, that’s on all of us. The choices we as a region make in the coming months will determine the fate of Southern Resident orcas. Stabilizing and recovering their population requires an unprecedented cooperative effort, and we need your help to succeed.

There is no one silver bullet solution that will reverse the decline of orcas in the next year. In honor of the 17 days that Tahlequah carried her calf, we have put together 17 actions to help our Southern Resident orcas.

  1. Currently, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public input on which commercial whale watching regulations or limits might be most effective in reducing negative impacts on the orcas and ensuring sustainable whale watching licensing program. They will consider protections for Southern resident orcas by establishing requirements for or limits on different aspects of commercial whale watching based on best available science, including (as outlined in the legislation): the number of commercial whale watching operators that may view SRKW at one time; the number of days and hours that commercial whale watching operators can operate; the duration spent in the vicinity of SRKW; the areas in which commercial whale watching operators may operate; and the use of an automatic identification tracking system (AIS) to enable monitoring and compliance.
  2. June is Orca Month in the Pacific Northwest! Orca Month is a chance to celebrate one of our region’s most iconic wildlife species, but also an opportunity to reflect on the plight of these fragile creatures. Join us for a virtual month of educational and celebratory virtual events to raise awareness of the threats facing our Southern Resident orca population and what we can do to protect them.  Follow Orca Month on Instagram and Facebook.
  3. Check out Braided River and WEC’s new multimedia book and campaign We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea  to protect and restore Puget Sound. The book amplifies the voices and ideas working to protect and restore Puget Sound and the campaign encourages you to join us in focusing on one action each month. Check out this month’s action.
  4. Join the growing movement of people taking action daily to reduce their plastic waste that end up in our oceans, rivers and waterways and be part of the solution to plastic pollution epidemic. Recent reports found that approximately 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the ocean every year. While this problem can be overwhelming, there are useful tips and resources to help you start eliminating plastics in your everyday life.
  5. Seek out and explore shore based whale watching sites in Washington. That’s right, there are dozens of convenient locations through the Salish Sea where you can whale watch without a boat. Check out The Whale Trail, your best guide and resource for shore based whale watching.
  6. “Be Whale Wise” when you are on the water in a boat or kayak. Washington state requires all vessels to be 300 yards from an orca on either side and 400 yards in front and behind the orca.
  7. Get involved in a local habitat restoration project- Organizations across the region from Conservation Districts, to Salmon Recovery Lead Entities, to Salmon Enhancement Groups, to state and local agencies to local non-profits like EarthCorps are working every day to restore salmon habitat. They could use the help of volunteers like you.
  8. Contact your congressional delegation urging them to support federal appropriation dollars for critical salmon habitat restoration needs in the Pacific Northwest. Southern resident orcas primary source of food is the threatened Chinook salmon. Without adequate food, orcas will starve. Click here for all congressional delegation contacts.
  9. Contact your city council members, mayor, county commissioners and ask them to be champions for the recovery of the Southern Resident orca population. Contact Rein Attemann (rein@wecprotects.org) for more details.
  10. Join our Sound Advocate Pods to build a network of orca advocates in communities around The Salish Sea that will be ready to engage and act at critical moments.  Sign up here.
  11. Dispose your unused medicines properly. Individually, we have a responsibility to dispose of unused medicines properly to protect human health and safety as well as the environment. Do not dump them into sewers (toilets and sinks) or garbage cans as they will find their way into our waterways toxifying all sorts of wildlife including forage fish, salmon and orcas. In the Salish Sea region, public health agencies in four counties (King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce) now have secure medicine return programs with many more convenient drop box locations than even before. These comprehensive drug take-back programs will soon be expanding to three other counties (Clallam, Whatcom, Skagit), and eventually across the entire state.  Help keep drugs out of orcas.Residents of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish can find MED-Project drop boxes online at https://med-project.org/  or call 1-(844)-633-7765.If you live in another county, check for drop box locations at www.TakeBackYourMeds.org.
  12. Support salmon-safe farmers, businesses, and local food providers. The lack of salmon is a statewide issue, so wherever you live, please seek out local food opportunities that respect salmon.
  13. Orcas Love Raingardens – We get roughly 40″ of rain every year in the Puget Sound region. All that rain hits our roofs, yards, and driveways and runs off into the streets. Along the way it picks up pollutants and toxic chemicals, ending up in local streams and ultimately Puget Sound, unfiltered. A Rain Garden can help capture some of that runoff, collect it, and filter it back into the ground before it has a chance to carry pollution to our local waterways. Read more about WEC’s Orcas Love Raingardens project to plant raingardens at schools in the Tacoma Public School District.
  14. Check your community’s grade in Nature’s Scorecard! We’ve put together a scorecard that grades our cities and counties on how well they’re planning for a healthy future. Nature’s Scorecard provides a snapshot of how our communities around Puget Sound are performing, measured against the requirements. Find your city’s score and contact them to let them know how they did!
  15. Reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel and fix that oil leak. Toxic road dust from tire wear has been implicated in killing Coho salmon in streams. Oil leaks from vehicle are a source of PAHs that cause problems in herring. Learn more at  Don’t Drip and Drive.
  16. Switch to non-toxic personal care products as drugs have been implicated in juvenile salmonid survival. See this infographic for more information.
  17. Create shoreline friendly fish habitat if you are a shoreline property owner to support salmon that supports orcas. If we restore our shorelines, there will be more forage fish such as sand lance and smelt, to support more salmon for the Orcas. Puget Sound has 7,500 miles of shoreline, 2,500 of which has been degraded by development. Learn more here!

The problems facing our orcas are complex, and no one solution will guarantee our orcas’ survival. But we can all play a part and collective action makes a statement. Find out more about these actions, share what you’re doing, and follow the hashtag #RememberTahlequah to learn more and stay involved.

The best time to save the southern resident orcas and the salmon they depend on was 30 years ago. The next best is now.

Read more about WEC’s work to protect orcas, and as a member of the Orca Recovery Task Force.