That’s how long the world watched as J35, a southern resident killer whale, swam through 1,500 kilometres of the Salish Sea with the body of her dead calf upon her nose, who died the day she gave birth to her, less than a month earlier.
And that’s how long Gregg McElroy and Eric Pittman of the Canadian Orca Rescue Society will carry their homemade orca balloons along Victoria’s Inner Harbour to draw attention to the plight of the 74 remaining killer whales.
“They’re starving to death,” McElroy says, of the orcas, who face extinction because of a rapidly depleting food supply. “Their main food source, the chinook salmon, is in peril.”
With a rotating cast of volunteers, the pair are collecting signatures – 700 in the first 11 days – for a petition they will present to both the provincial and federal government requesting emergency measures to be invoked under the Species at Risk Act, legislation designed to protect endangered or threatened organisms and their habitats.
“They’re dying, and they’re at their last resort,” McElroy says. “Just like a human would be – you would go to any length to try to save your child. That’s what I saw.”
Raising funds to increase wild salmon hatcheries is also part of the Canadian Orca Rescue Society’s goals, particularly the 4 Mile Creek Hatchery in Port Renfrew which releases the fish directly into the orcas’ habitat. The society’s mandate: “to bring salmon back to every river and creek in B.C.”
McElroy likens the ocean to a garden. “We’ve been taking everything out of it, and we haven’t put anything back into it.”
They’re also calling on the government to increase funding for salmon habitat rehabilitation, regulation of the whale watching industry, and a promise not to increase tanker traffic through the Salish Sea.
With the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline in May, that promises to increase tanker traffic 700 per cent, the whales face certain death, McElroy says.
And while the pair’s orca balloons have been a steady presence at many anti-pipeline rallies, Pittman says they’re not a protest group.
“We want to be a helpful group,” he stresses. “We’re here to help restore the ecosystem of the West Coast. We’re here to do some good.”
The Canadian Orca Rescue Society tour the Inner Harbour every evening from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. until Oct. 17.