I’ve dedicated the last few years to learning about the Southern Resident orcas - this is the most iconic ecotype of BC’s most iconic species - the orcas who survive almost entirely on a diet of Chinook salmon found in the Salish Sea.
The first ever killer whale displayed in captivity, Moby Doll, was a Southern Resident. The original Shamu was a Southern Resident.
Granny, the 105-year-old matriarch of J-Pod, is a Southern Resident.
There are currently 82 Southern Residents in the wild and one - Lolita or Tokitae - at the Seaquarium in Florida.
When the National Energy Board released its report on this pipeline expansion my first question was: “what does this means for the Southern Residents?”
To the National Energy Board’s credit, that question was answered. Basically, the answer is extinction.
Here's a quote from a 2014 NEB report on Kinder Morgan:
“the Board acknowledges that this increase in marine vessels associated with the Project would further contribute to cumulative effects that are already jeopardizing the recovery of the Southern resident killer whale. The effects associated with Project-related marine vessels will impact numerous individuals of the Southern resident killer whale population in a habitat identified as critical to the recovery and classifies the effects as high magnitude. Consequently, the Board finds that the operation of Project-related marine vessels is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the Southern resident killer whale.”
So if everything goes well… if none of the tankers runs over an orca and nothing ever spills because, of course, nothing could ever possibly go wrong with a huge tanker making sharp turns in treacherous waters… if everything goes absolutely according to plan.
It’s all over for these orca, because no one studying this population believes they can survive “significant adverse effects.”
These would be the orcas that are the icon of this province… the emblem of the Vancouver Canucks. The poster species for every one of our tourism campaigns.
I asked Howard Garrett, Co-founder of the Orca Network in Washington, if he’d like me to say anything here on his behalf - and I’ll forward his entire statement - but he warns:
“This proposal would routinely pollute our air and water and increase the underwater noise that severely impacts the ability of marine mammals to maintain essential awareness of their environs, especially the Salish Sea's endangered Southern Resident orcas who need to use echolocation to find food and navigate, and to communicate with one another… Please reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.”
I became obsessed with these whales after discovering that orcas are one of only two species on earth besides our own where females live a prolonged life beyond menopause. The other species… pilot whales.
The evolutionary theory behind this is that these whales are so intelligent that the 'Grannies' live to pass on their wisdom, their language, their culture. This culture, these whales, are irreplaceable.
So I wondered: how many jobs - not temporary construction jobs - permanent full time jobs is a whale worth?
What’s the price we’re prepared to put on an entire culture that goes back hundreds of thousands of years?
How much is a whale worth?
I went to the Kinder Morgan website last night to see how many thousands of permanent jobs this project would create. I’ll quote their site here:
“Once the proposed Expansion Project is complete, operating and maintaining 1,150 kilometres of the twinned Trans Mountain Pipeline system will result in approximately 90 new operating positions: approximately 50 in British Columbia and 40 in Alberta.”
For oil, we’re no longer sure there will be a market for if this project is completed.
So the only way anyone will ever see another Southern Resident is if they visit Lolita in her oversized bathtub in Florida.
Approximately 90 jobs - 50 in BC - so that would be approximately the number of people employed by one of our larger whale watching companies here in Victoria.
I interviewed Justin Trudeau the year before he was elected Prime Minister. He told me that “governments grant permits, only communities grant permission.”
Please, tell our government: you do not have our permission.
Wiping out the Southern Resident orcas would be a crime, not just against the orcas, but also against humanity.