Even with recent births, Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb worries for the future of local orcas.
PORT ANGELES, Wash. — There has been a flood of orca news lately – with several calves born to the endangered Southern Resident population in recent months. But activists and state officials agree – we have a long way to go to save the orcas.
But the births were tempered with news that J46, who had been identified as pregnant, had apparently lost her calf. That brings the total number of Southern Residents in the wild to 75.
Even with those births, Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb worries for their future.
“We’re not on the right trajectory, and we won’t get there for another 10-20 years, even if nobody dies,” Balcomb said. “Even if we do everything we can.”
About 40% of Southern Resident calves don’t live past a year. The whales face a variety of threats when in Puget Sound: a dwindling food supply of Chinook salmon, vessel noise that complicates their hunting, and bio-accumulating pollutants in the water.
To address the food supply issue, Balcomb’s CWR bought a home on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula late last year. Now dubbed the “Big Salmon Ranch,” they were drawn by the hundreds of feet of riverfront, which the group will protect as salmon spawning habitat.
“We bought it for the whales,” Balcomb said. “We bought it for J Pod. Far as I’m concerned, when I move on, it’s theirs.”
Though it’s just a small section of the long river, he hopes it will help make an impact. But he doesn’t expect his project to solve the orcas’ food crisis, and is calling on the state of Washington to take more aggressive action, like breaching the Snake River dams.
“What has to be is a food supply available to them year round, wherever they’re travelling, so that they don’t have these momentary starvations that interfere with their reproduction or successful pregnancy,” Balcomb said.
He expressed frustration with what some activists see as a lack of motion from the state after Governor Inslee commissioned the Southern Residents task force. The working group published their list of recommendations here, though not all have been implemented.