Orca Awareness Month Proclaimed in City of Victoria

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Orca Awareness Month


My speech to Victoria City Council May 26 (the 5 minute limit exactly!):

May 26/16
Mayor Helps and Council:

Good evening! My name is Diane McNally; I’m here to thank you for your recognition of the Attorney-General ‘s proclamation of June as the first Orca Awareness Month in British Columbia!

You are invited to Orca Month’s first event Saturday June 4, 9 am at the Songhees Wellness Centre. Songhees Nation Elder and master carver Clarence “Butch” Dick will speak to the history of the Lkwungen people, with a connection to the orcas in the waters bordering the territory. Birthday cake, coffee, tea, juice will be served at 10 in the Board Room to celebrate the orca babies born last year. Information about additional events is on the Orca Month BC facebook page and will be provided on June 4.

Orca Month BC will help raise awareness of the fact that, even though orcas’ intelligence equals ours, and they are the apex predator in these waters, carrying 3D mental maps of huge territories, they need protection – from us. In the decades around the 1950s orcas were often shot on sight as fish stealing man eaters. We discovered that they were highly intelligent and friendly when Moby Doll was harpooned and briefly exhibited in Vancouver in 1964 . A commercial capture for exhibit began, and came to a legislated end in 1976 as a result of public outcry based on the late Michael Bigg‘s research that proved population numbers were not as high as thought.

There are 4 main groups of orcas who live in and visit the Salish Sea: Southern residents, Northern residents, Transients (Bigg’s), and Offshores.All are listed as “threatened”, the Southern Residents only steps from from extinction.

Not much is known about the 250 Offshore orcas who range from California to Alaska in open water and are believed to eat fish and sharks They occasionally visit BC coastal and inshore waters, in large groups.

The transients, or Bigg’s orcas – named in memory of the late Michael Bigg – range from California to Alaska. They eat sea mammals and are the only species of whale that kills other whales. Their societies are matrilineal but adult children may leave their mother at maturity. They travel in small groups.

The Northern Residents, a fish eating group of about 250 individuals, range from South East Alaska to Washington State, travelling in family groups. The 83 Southern Residents are the most studied orca group in the world, a local extended family clan made up of matrilineal families in J, K and L pods , fish eaters who travel from central California to Haida Gwaii in the winter but spending summer and fall here in the Salish Sea.

Northern and Southern Residents’ ranges overlap to an extent but they never intermingle.

With only 83 Southern Residents left, we need to focus on how we can help keep local orcas from extinction.They face many challenges including humans taking huge numbers of their basic food, Chinook salmon, dammed spawning rivers, acoustic interference from ships and boats, disorientation and physical harm from Sonar used in military exercises and exploration. Pollutants discharged in to the Salish sea have resulted in male SRs and transient males’ bodies being designated toxic waste at death. Baby orcas often die before reaching 1 year old, as a result of stressors including the toxin offload from their mothers in milk.

The elder of the Resident orcas is Granny, J2, of J pod. At about 104 years old she has seen the world she grew up in, a much quieter ocean world with plentiful Chinook, disappear.

What can we do? We can:
• Support wild salmon stream restoration
• Institute more stringent limits on pollutant discharge and runoff into the Salish Sea
• Continue evaluating and improving guidelines for boat and ship activity
• Evaluate the potential for oil spills and take appropriate action
• Continue cross-border coordination for monitoring, research, and enforcement

On behalf of the orcas, thank you for recognizing Orca Awareness Month in BC.

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