Orcas: a black and white issue

“Suburban wild” meets real wild at the shoreline that divides us terrestrials from the marine world.

  • Fri Jun 17th, 2016 10:00am
  • News

By Barbara Julian

“Suburban wild” meets real wild at the shoreline that divides us terrestrials from the marine world.

There, three pods of orcas (killer whales) pursue their collective life alongside us. The province has proclaimed June 2016 as Orca Awareness Month, and local conservationists, citizen scientists, artists and writers are coming together to focus on the whales’ needs. The City of Victoria also proclaimed June Orca Awareness Month.

The local pods have produced nine new members in the past year and a half.

What will life be like for these newborns if they survive into adulthood?

Orca offspring live near their mothers for life, infant care being shared among older sisters and aunts, with post-menopausal grandmothers leading the group. Communication takes place over vast underwater distances using sound waves sent and received through specialized membranes in the whales’ heads, jaws and blowholes.

By this echolocation whales mentally map the contours of the sea bed and find schools of salmon. Ever-increasing commercial and military shipping sonar interferes disastrously with their ability to communicate and find prey.

How much salmon will be left, for future orca populations? We have depleted salmon stocks through river habitat destruction as well as over-fishing, not only taking fish but leaving gear behind in which whales are regularly entangled. Fishing lines join everything from shoes to tennis balls in the stomachs of orcas, along with a literal ocean-full of plastic bags.

The issue is black and white: either these threats are mitigated or B.C.’s most famous wildlife species will die out.

B.C.’s Orca Month coincides with the one celebrated in Washington State, since activists on both sides of the border are working for the same whales in the same waters.

In Victoria, watch for the Orca Month table at Fern-fest on Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information go to the Orca Month B.C. facebook page, follow @orcamonthintnat on Twitter, or contact naturalreviews@hotmail.com.