The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir



Nov 15, 2018

The Three to Five Year Whale Watching Ban: For Conservation, or the Economy?

A significant move that will impact 32 operators, in 19 different ports in Washington State and British Columbia, is this really the answer to the dwindling Orca population?


Sean Verity

With just 74 Orcas remaining in the waters off the coast of the State of Washington and neighbouring British Columbia, there is clearly a problem. As the Center for Whale research explains, “The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), or Orcas, are actually a large extended family, or clan, comprised of three pods: J, K, and L pods.

As of July 2018, the SRKW population totals 75 (editors note: this has since dropped to 74) whales: J Pod=23, K Pod=18, L Pod=34.”

Photo by Frank Busch


We need to do everything we can to help ensure the future of these great animals and the State of Washington, appeared to take a great stride in March 2018. 

The Executive Order, signed by The State of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, detailed that “The Task Force was charged with preparing a comprehensive report and recommendations for recovering Southern Residents, with a full draft due by September 24, 2018, and a final report by November 16, 2018”. The “Executive Order 18-02: Southern Resident Killer Whale and Recovery Task Force” can be found in full here.  

The task force met that deadline, and just a couple of days ago, Governor Jay Inslee’s team voted to recommend a three to five-year moratorium on commercial whale watching for Southern Resident killer whales.

The knee jerk reaction is that this appears to be great news. If whale watching boats are causing a problem, then this is an important move to ensure their survival. However, there is more to this story and we start with the FAQ section of the Pacific Whale Watching Association’s website, where a simple questions is asked, but there is far from a straightforward answer.


“There’s no evidence that whale watching is a significant factor in their decline. If that were the case, transient killer whales and humpback whales wouldn’t be doing so well in the same environment. Scientific studies on stress hormones in the southern residents show that when there’s sufficient food, boat noise and disturbance have a low effect. But when chinook salmon are scarce, as they are now year after year, and the whales have to work longer and harder to find what little food there is, any noise disturbance undoubtedly has a greater effect.”

This passage alludes to the depth that we will need to go into to establish whether this recommendation really makes that much sense. 

Contrary to the Pacific Whale Watching Association’s answer, Donna Sandstrom, Director of The Whale Trail, but poignantly also a member of the Orca Task Force that has made the recommendation which led to the executive order, offered another perspective entitled “Cut the toxins and boat noise, and boost salmon, so orcas can survive“. Within this article, published in The Seattle Times, Donna agrees that the “best available science shows that to recover the orcas we must both increase the amount of salmon” but that a decrease in the amount of noise is necessary too. Within the same article a study is referenced, “that shows that the southern residents lose 5.5 hours of foraging time each day due to noise and disturbance from commercial vessels and whale-watching boats specifically”.

Elsewhere, Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada tweeted.


With this Executive Order being passed in the State of Washington, you might be asking yourself why this might influence Canadian ports and Whale watching companies? As far as we’re aware at The Outdoor Journal, there are not any planned Canadian recommendations, legislation or any kind of moratorium.

Brett Soberg, who runs Eagle Wing tours but also speaks on behalf of British Columbia’s whale watching industry told Global News that “The whale-watching industry is a trans-national. Canadian companies are regularly in American waters tracking animals. If Washington state bans viewing it will have an impact on how Canadian tour operators conduct their business, but there are very few details about what could happen. This really surprised us.


“Honesty was crushed by politics and vested interests, even within agencies whose responsibility it is to manage natural resources sustainably.”

These are the words of Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research. These feelings are echoed elsewhere by many activists who feel that this decision to target commercial whale watchers is skirting the key issue of dams cutting off the Orca’s food supply. Put simply, Salmon cannot make their way down the rivers due to huge dams that “produce an average of 1,000 megawatts of power a year, or about 5 percent of electricity generated in the Pacific Northwest, and account for about 12 percent of BPA’s power“, according to K5 news. A huge amount of power, that has a huge amount of commercial and therefore political value too.

they overwhelmingly rely on Chinook salmon”

National Geographic published an article that spells out the importance of Salmon to the SRKW’s in their article “How Killer Whales Went from Hated, to Adored, to Endangered”. Nat Geo explain that “What’s hurting them is, above all, the lack of available prey” and that “Southern Residents don’t just rely primarily on Chinook salmon; they overwhelmingly rely on Chinook salmon“.

Elsewhere, Mark Sawyer, a Whale watching guide for Jamie’s Whale Watching Tours posted the below on Instagram.


View this post on Instagram


I’ve woken up disheartened and frustrated with the politics involved with the Southern Resident Killer Whale recovery. This week, a moratorium on whale watching has been proposed, and not simply because I am a whale watching guide, I find it beyond ill-advised. Rather than get into every little detail about the threats and recovery strategy for the SRKWs,that you can find elsewhere, I’ll cover why I feel the decision is a poor one. The issue is, and has been for a while, salmon restoration. Not sport fishing, not whale watching, not “too many seals”. I’m not saying boat noise is not an issue, but there is a huge difference between the noise generated by a small vessel and the noise generated by a tanker. Here’s where it becomes, as wildlife issues tend to become, economy vs. environment. Are the politicians willing to hinder short-term economic gain for long-term environmental benefit? It would seem that the cost of removing the dams is too much. It would seem the reduction in tanker traffic is too politically costly. There are other far more beneficial options that would impact the SRKWs greater, but elected officials are reluctant to choose these options. I believe that the whale watching industry has, in the eyes of the politicians, helped create this problem. We inform. We highlight issues. We educate. We have had meaningful conversations with guests about the issues that have arisen. We’ve shared pictures captured on these tours. We’ve explained what steps they can take if they feel motivated to do so. The removal of whale watching will reduce some boat noise. It will also reduce the messaging that is bringing these issues to the fore. It will reduce the ability for the general public to feel as engaged in the issues. It will reduce the amount of coverage that the SRKWs recieve. All that doesn’t have a net benefit for the SRKWs, it allows them to continue to slip away. Only they’ll slip away more quietly. . . Photo is of a Bigg’s killer whale. This population is growing at 5% per year, and is now the killer whale population of focus for the whale watching industry in Victoria. SRKWs are being targeted on ~10% of tours.

A post shared by Mark Sawyer (@mark_sawyer) on

Brett Soberg, told Global News that “It’s pretty clear food scarcity, not noise from boats that is the biggest concern to the southern residents”. The situation does appear bizarre, that a few whale watching boats are being deemed an issue, whilst huge tankers and all the pleasure boats are not considered to be a more significant concern. 

Are the politicians willing to hinder short-term economic gain for long-term environmental benefit?

Andrew Trites, of the University of British Columbia, where he is the Director of UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, supported this observation, when he told CTV news that “Nothing’s being talked about for all the small pleasure boaters that are roaring around“. Andrew continues to explain that “We don’t ever talk about what’s happened to the food supply… The irony is that the whale-watching industry that takes out many, many people in each boat, they know the whales better than anybody else“. Elsewhere, Mark Malleson, the Prince of Whales, also told CTV that “Many of us are taking photographs, collecting data, so a huge attribute for the scientific community“.

The Orca Behaviour Institute has also argued that commercial whale watching should not be be considered a huge problem in comparison barge traffic and commercial fishing boats.


There are further explanations as to why the population of Southern Resident Killer Whales is dwindling. For many years, they were taken out of their natural habitats to be kept in captivity. It all started in the 60’s with Ted Griffin, a well known personality in Seattle as the founder of the Seattle Marine Aquarium. Ted brought the SRKW’s to his park, and as far as we know, became the first person to swim with one. Ted’s impact on the SRKW’s really solidified over coming years, as he went on to repeat this again and again, capturing dozens in order to satisfy the demand from aquariums around the world.

Jenny Atkinson of the Whale Museum told Advocacy for Animals, that “Originally, the main threat that everybody believes is what really caused this population decline was that capture era, where more than 50 individuals were taken out of this population for the captive industry.” Due to ease of transportation, it was often the smaller Whales that were taken, this meant that two generations of Southern Resident’s were removed from the oceans. Not only did this leave the pods with the obvious problem, but also a reduction in diversity within the gene pool. Ted’s legacy is that of a lasting threat to the existence of Southern Resident Killer Whales.

There are also curious examples from other geographic regions, that it’s important to take note of. The Government of Canada note that the “Northern Resident population has grown since the 1970s.  Since 2002, the population has experienced an average annual growth rate of 2.9%.  In 2017, the population numbered 309 individuals.  However, conservation concerns exist for this population, given its small size and slow growth rate.” In the 1970’s, the population stood at 120, so there has clearly been a huge improvement in an area so close to the waters frequented by the Southern Residents.

Why is this? How can the difference be so big between the Northern and Southern Residents? Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of the marine mammal program at the Vancouver Aquarium told the Haida Gwaii Observer that whilst the growth has been encouraging “They took a bit of a downturn in the late 1990s, during a time when chinook salmon were particularly scarce in some poor salmon years”. It’s a very interesting observation, and links can surely be drawn with the issues that the SRKW’s face. In times where the Salmon is plentiful the Northern Resident population has grown substantially.


This is clearly a complex issue, and it’s very difficult to draw clear conclusions. However, it’s obvious that most people who understand the situation and Orca’s better than anybody agree that food scarcity is the main issue. This is backed up by the success of the Northern Residents, who have had a sufficient source of food for a sustained period.

The resolution to conserving the Southern Residents means increasing salmon populations, but to do so would require drastic measures. A good example would be the removal of dams on the Snake River, which would ensure that greater numbers would be within range of the Orca’s. However, the removal of dams on the Snake River could mean a detrimental effect on the economy, a move that appears unlikely, even if it is in the face of huge environmental importance. Instead, recommendations to skirt this issue, and target whale watching tours is likely to continue, so that politicians can be seen to be doing something whilst protecting the economy over the conservation.

As Mark Sawyer of Jamie’s Whale Watching asks, the important question appears to be whether “the politicians willing to hinder short-term economic gain for long-term environmental benefit?

Cover Photo by Robert Pittman

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Apr 19, 2019

Five Petitions To Sign This Earth Week

Only have five minutes to spare, but still want to help make a difference? Add your name to these petitions!



Brooke Hess

Starting in 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated annually on April 22nd worldwide. There are currently 192 countries participating in Earth Day. Considering that there are 195 countries on Earth, this participation statistic is pretty dang good! The goal of Earth Day is to raise awareness of environmental issues facing our planet and help spark action that will change these issues for a cleaner, healthier Earth.

With Earth Day fast approaching, you may be thinking of things you can do to contribute to the cause. If you can’t take off a day of work to head out into the forest and plant trees, here are some environmentally-focused petitions you can sign during your lunch break instead!

How petitions help:

Petitions mobilize support. They bring together organizational strength and demonstrate the ability for supporters to come together for change.

Jason Del Gandio, a professor of communications and social movements, told the New York Times that, “The biggest benefit from a petition is raised awareness… No president is going to do an about-face on a major policy because of 20,000 signatures. But coupling that petition with other tactics like protests, rallies, phone calls, face-to-face lobbying, a well-organized media plan and community outreach creates an environment in which the goals of the signatories can become reality.”

A petition itself won’t cause immediate change, however, it has the ability to spark more activism among its supporters.

Here are five petitions to sign this Earth Day:

Make Earth Day A National Holiday

Sign the petition here.

Photo: The North Face

If you are like the majority of Americans who will be stuck in an office today instead of outside enjoying what Mother Nature has given us, you might be interested in this petition. The North Face started this petition to make Earth Day a national holiday.

This would allow for workers in the U.S. to take a day off work to celebrate this day, contribute to a cause that inspires them, and generally spend some time appreciating the Earth.

Save The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Sign the Petition here.

Firth River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Thayer, A., U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the country. According to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the purpose of a national wildlife refuge is “To administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of the present and future generations of Americans.”

Right now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil and gas drilling due to a Taxation Bill that has just been passed by the U.S. Senate. Sign this petition if you want to demand that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be protected from oil drilling!

Remove The Snake River Dams. Save The Salmon! Save The Orcas!

Sign both this petition and this petition.

Lower Granite Dam, Snake River

Dams have a significant impact on spawning Salmon. The added stress that dams add to their breeding patterns has caused the Snake River Sockeye Salmon to be in danger of extinction. This lowered population of Snake River Sockeye has resulted in a smaller food supply for the salmon-eating Southern Resident Orcas.

If the lower Snake River dams are removed, survival rates of Sockeye Salmon would double. Not only would this help the fish population return from near extinction, but it would help recover the Orca population with an ample food supply.

Sign both of these petitions to remove the lower Snake River dams!

Wild Orcas Need Wild Salmon!

Sign the petition here.

Patagonia began this petition to continue the fight to save the wild Salmon and Orcas (similar to the petitions mentioned above).

Right now, Washington State has proposed a plan to “feed the Orcas” with hatchery and farmed salmon. However, scientific research has shown that Orcas need the larger wild salmon to flourish. Not hatchery salmon. And the addition of hatchery salmon will weaken the wild salmon gene pool, thus contributing further to the endangerment of the species.

Read next: The Three to Five Year Whale Watching Ban: For Conservation, or the Economy?

Patagonia proposes that we, “Tell NOAA Regional Administrator Barry Thom, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, and our elected decision-makers to stop wasting money on failed plans and invest in science-based solutions: reduce hatchery production, remove dams, and change how we harvest salmon.”

Sign the petition if you agree with Patagonia!

Ban The Use Of Tiger Bone And Rhino Horn 

Sign the Petition here.

On October 29th, 2018, China released a statement allowing the trade of tiger bone and rhino horn for medicinal use.

Neither tiger bone nor rhino horn has shown healing effects as medicinal remedies. And with fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers left in the wild, the possibility of those species going extinct is, unfortunately, extremely high. After a wave of protests, China postponed the ban being lifted. However, the extent of this postponement is not known.

Sign the petition if you want the use of tiger and rhino products to remain banned!


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