The controversial satellite tagging of killer whales in Washington has ended for 2013. We have posted twice before on this topic and the potential dangers it holds for the endangered orca whales that we enjoy on our kayak tours in the San Juan Islands. This year’s target was K-25, a young adult male born in 1991 that goes by the name of “Scoter”. The tag did not tear free of the orca whale’s dorsal fin like last year and it yielded 3 months of essentially useless data. Useless because it will be ignored by the agency that is supposed to protect killer whales from extinction in Washington. This is the harpoon tag that is shot into their dorsal fins.
The tagged whale and his K-pod family traveled from Puget Sound all the way down to Point Reyes, California. Most of the winter was spent near the mouth of the Columbia River and the outer coast of Washington. The idea of the project was to learn more about their winter movements, habitat use and feeding behavior. Unfortunately, nothing new was learned and the data only confirmed what we already knew about the orcas. The risk to their health is clearly unwarranted and most local biologists, conservationists, and kayakers are strongly opposed to the project.
We already know why our orca whales in the San Juan Islands are endangered. Destruction of salmon spawning streams and toxic pollutants that mainly enter our marine ecosystem from winds that blow here from China are to blame. NOAA and NMFS have no plans to curtail salmon fishing and have done very little to promote improved spawning despite a long-delayed recovery plan mandated by federal courts. The satellite tagging study results will not suddenly jolt NMFS into doing a proper job of managing salmon or orca whales. Nor will it induce NMFS to halt the US Navy’s use of the orca’s winter range for testing bombs and high-energy sonar despite the fact that it is a national marine sanctuary. So what exactly is the point of putting even one individual of such a highly endangered killer whale population at risk?
NMFs admits that their recovery plans are not working. But instead of taking effective actions, they continue to make noises about outlawing kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island. To NMFS the answer is clear: bombs good, kayak tours bad. And we are supposed to trust this agency that negligently allowed both salmon and whales to come to such dire straits under their watch. Perhaps it will take yet another trip to federal court to straighten NMFS out. Their track record in court is as bad as their management of our endangered marine species. Unfortunately, kayakers will likely remain their scapegoat as we don’t have the deep pockets of the special interest groups that dictate their policies. Meanwhile, both salmon and the orca whales that depend on them will continue to languish.