PAT NEAL: Dam removal a whale of an issue

IT WAS ANOTHER tough day for those of us who love the iconic orca, or killer whale.

An article, “Scientists: Breach Dams To Save Orcas,” in the Peninsula Daily News on Oct. 30 described the recent death of a matriarch of the J pod, one of several groups of resident orcas that inhabit Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands.

Known to researchers as J28, the 23-year-old mother of a 10-month-old baby had been in poor health for months.

As her condition grew progressively worse, other orcas tried to feed her salmon, but J28 died anyway.

Due to her emaciated condition, J28 could not nurse her 10-month-old calf.

Other orcas tried to adopt the calf, but it is presumed dead.

Whale experts blame the death on a lack of king salmon.

The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, along with sign-waving whale activists, is demanding the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River to restore salmon to the killer whale menu.

Lack of salmon is one of many reasons the killer whales could be dying.

A 2014 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mentioned vessel noise and traffic, and chemical pollution, as possible threats to killer whale survival.

We currently pump an estimated 97,000 pounds of drugs, hormones and personal-care-product residues into the water every year with 106 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants in Puget Sound.

The chemicals are not monitored, regulated or removed from wastewater.

These substances are called “chemicals of concern,” since their effects on fish, sea mammal and human growth, behavior, reproduction and immune function are unknown.

This chemical soup includes nicotine, caffeine, OxyContin, Paxil, Valium, Zoloft and cocaine along with toxic waste leftover since the Industrial Revolution.

We don’t know what levels these chemicals are present in adult fish.

We don’t know the effect on marine mammals who eat fish, but those at the top of the food chain such as the whales and humans would be the most vulnerable.

The one thing we can all agree on is that the most important food of the southern resident orca, the king salmon, has become more threatened and endangered with each passing year.

The notion that we can restore the orcas’ food supply by taking the dams out of a river in Idaho might sound good on paper, but any salmon swimming down the Snake still has to negotiate hundreds of miles of the dammed Columbia to get to sea.

Why don’t we restore some of our local undammed king salmon streams right here on the North Olympic Peninsula?

Our rivers drain right into the saltwater with no dams to impede fish migration.

If we can raise Atlantic salmon in net pens, why not use the same technology to raise our own native Pacific salmon?

Instead, we have let our king salmon slip into endangered species status.

Meanwhile, the salmon restoration industry with its myriad government agencies has spent the past 17 years and $500 million across the state building log jams, buying property from willing sellers and planting native vegetation as an excuse for salmon restoration.

Now the Earth is in the midst of what is known as the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals recorded in the past half-billion years with approximately 1,000 species disappearing in the past 500 years.

Without king salmon, the killer whales could be next on the extinction list.

Next, the people and communities that depend on salmon for food and employment will have to move or go extinct, but it’s doubtful there will be any activists around to protest.

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Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]