A Desperate Call

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Like the rest of Washington, members of the Mt. Baker Group of the Sierra Club were heartbroken as we watched Tahlequah—Orca J35—desperately keeping her dead calf afloat for 17 days. Southern Resident killer whales are starving, their waters are toxic, shipping noise interferes with their hunting, and now there’s a new threat: the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Tahlequah’s determination in her 17-day show of grief was unprecedented, and if you share that grief, you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do to help.

While the hour is late, don’t abandon hope. There are things—big and small—we can all do. Individual actions, the groups and businesses you support, and your vote all add up to make a difference.

Most immediately, Southern Resident killer whales need to eat, and they’ve evolved a preference for Chinook salmon—a species itself in serious decline.

If you buy salmon, take a pass on Chinook for now. Also, protect the Salish Sea: Don’t use fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that can end up in the watershed. Support regulations that could increase water flow in local waterways so salmon can spawn, as well as regulations keeping manure-based pathogens from large-scale feedlots out of streams and rivers.

We all—orcas included—have a right to nontoxic water. Contact your representatives in office, vote for candidates who promise to protect the environment, and hold them accountable.

Right now, you can submit a comment to the Orca Task Force created by Gov. Jay Inslee.

After studying the issue at length, the statewide Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club recommends the following actions to best help the orcas.

We urge you to support these efforts and mention them in your comments: 1. Increase spill to 125 percent at the dams on the lower Snake and Columbia River starting 2019. This is the safest, quickest fix to increase the survival rate of young salmon migrating downstream. 2. Remove the four lower dams on the Snake River, which historically contributed over 50 percent of all the salmon coming out of the Columbia River. The power produced and jobs affected can be replaced with clean wind and solar energy, clean jobs, and increased efficiencies. And rail use can be improved so that agricultural products can go by train instead of by barge. 3. Prohibit suction dredge mining and other mechanized “recreational” mining in all critical salmon habitat. While other states prohibit it, Washington regulates it not at all, so Washington has become a magnet for this polluting, habitat-destroying practice. 4. Prioritize and accelerate salmon habitat restoration efforts including the removal of fish barriers such as culverts and other blockages. 5. Increase funding for pollution prevention programs such as run-off from city streets and agricultural areas. 6. Oppose any increase to oil traffic throughout the Salish Sea including construction or expansion of oil pipelines such as the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

This last issue, the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline, is of particular concern to residents of Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties.

The pipeline, built in the 1950s, crosses the Nooksack and Sumas rivers and Whatcom Creek, and carries dirty tar sands oil from Alberta that British Columbia doesn’t want.

Tar sands oil is so heavy that when it spills, it sinks, and current technology can only contain oil spills on the surface. Along with the unacceptable risk of toxic spills, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic would drastically increase the noise that’s already interfering with the orca’s ability to hunt.

This is the 11th hour for the 75 remaining Southern Resident killer whales, considered the “canary in the coal mine” by many. Now we are confronted with Orca J50, a sick and starving juvenile that Lummi heroes have attempted to feed and medicate. But even they wouldn’t be able to rescue the Southern Resident killer whales from a tar sands oil spill.

In an inspiring act of self-sacrifice, Tahlequah repeatedly pushed her calf to the surface, making the tragedy uncomfortably visible to us humans, as if to say, “Look what you’ve done.” The question remains, what will we do now?

More than 14,000 people raised concerns about Ecology’s emergency response plan for the Puget Sound Pipeline. You can submit a comment to the governor’s Orca Task Force at

This opinion piece was contributed by the Executive Committee of the Mt. Baker Group Sierra Club

Past Columns
Don’t Fence Us Out

July 22, 2020

Back to the wild

May 6, 2020

Every Other Weekly?

April 1, 2020

Unified Command

March 18, 2020

Kids World

January 29, 2020

Fierce Urgency of Now

January 15, 2020

The Three Rs

December 18, 2019

Saying Goodbye

December 11, 2019

Cold and Alone

December 4, 2019

Big Money Politics

November 13, 2019

A Win for the Birds

July 24, 2019

Road to ‘Nowhere’

June 26, 2019

Game Changes

April 24, 2019

Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018