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Why do we subject endangered orcas to ANY commercial whale-watching?

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Here’s an idea that’s so obvious that I’m amazed it isn’t at the center of public discussion about the declining orca population in and around Puget Sound. I happened upon it online (well, not exactly happened upon, thanks to my “whales noise” Google News section…); it was a guest commentary in a Vancouver Island paper, and I’ll let the author, Diane McNally, speak for herself:

Massive declines in salmon populations over the past 100 years have made it harder for the orcas to find food. Bodies of the males qualify as toxic waste, as they do not offload toxins in milk while nursing babies. Increasing ocean noise makes it harder for orcas to communicate with each other and to find food.

The remaining 78 southern residents are surrounded by buzzing boats any time they can be found. Can anyone say “watching” them during every daylight hour, as often as their location can be determined, for every day of their lives in the “whale watching season,” April to October, is helping them?

Put yourself in the orcas’ place. It’s as if you had neighbours who never turned off the leaf blower, lawn mower or loud music. Studies have shown behavioural changes in response to both noise and the presence of boats.

One next step in supporting the southern residents’ struggle to regain population viability is a retreat from entertaining ourselves by chasing and stressing individuals of this endangered population in the wild. We have the technology — underwater cameras and hydrophones — to see and hear them while allowing them the dignity of living their lives free from our desire to be entertained by them as they simply try to survive.

Indeed! Why should we humans have the “right” to hover around these wild creatures as they go about their days? Let an orca sighting become something rare and special: glimpsed from shore or happened upon while out on the water in your sailboat or on a ferry crossing.

Here’s a little taste of the life of an orca (if clicking the “play” arrow doesn’t start the audio after a few seconds, then click inside the white bars along the bottom and that’ll trigger it):

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