IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news for those of us who enjoy the orca, or killer whale.
Viewing these iconic creatures in the wild is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the natural world.
To see a pod of killer whales snacking on salmon-stealing seals gives one hope about the future of our fisheries.
And if estimates are accurate, and sea lions are suspected of consuming 45 percent of 2014’s spring chinook run on the Columbia River, orca predation on these pesky pinnipeds would be a good thing.
That is why it was so important to stop capturing killer whales and imprisoning them in pens where they are allowed to perform tricks for a reward of frozen herring.
Tree huggers, do-gooders and animal rights protesters all agree that military and commercial vessel traffic and the underwater noise pollution they create through the sheer volume of traffic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca impedes the sustainability of the endangered orca population.
It is illegal to approach within 200 yards (that’s two football fields) of any orca whale (www.bewhalewise.org).
It is also illegal to position a vessel within 400 yards of whales swimming in your direction.
These laws apply to all motorized or non-motorized vessels including lost kayakers.
A full page of whale-watching etiquette regulations is included every year in the Washington state fishing laws.
We are told to report violations to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This is the same agency that is running down orcas down to shoot them with tagging darts.
An Oct. 7 Peninsula Daily News article, “Tag Linked To Orca Death,” described how a satellite-linked tag fired into an orca by a federal biologist led to a fungal infection that contributed to the death of the whale.
This is the second recorded orca death this year.
In April, federal biologists temporarily stopped tagging orcas after one was found dead in the water with chunks of a tracking dart still in its fin.
I guess the recent orca death means the biologists are back at it.
While the biologists admit there is always a risk involved when doing research on wild animals, the whale tagging program has produced a tremendous amount of data about where the orca spend the winter and how they find food.
This data is said to be crucial to understanding the animal’s habitat.
One important bit of data the biologists seemed to overlook was that the satellite-tracking darts can kill the whales.
The orca tagging program has been labeled barbaric and inhumane, but it could be far worse than that.
Scientists have long been known to subject animals to horrific cruelty in their search for knowledge.
At one time the practice of vivisection was all the rage.
The scientists in their quest for knowledge would perform experimental surgical operations on live animals to study the living organs and investigate the effect of disease.
Mark Twain said he was not interested in knowing whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race.
Twain’s enmity toward vivisection were so strong and deeply rooted he would that he “could not even see a vivisector vivisected with anything more than a sort of qualified satisfaction.”
Which begs the question: Is it worth killing killer whales for whatever data the killing produces?
Can’t we move beyond studying creatures for our mere enjoyment or career opportunities the study provides to legions of researchers?
Or are we just going to study the killer whales to death?
Things could be worse.
We’re lucky these scientists aren’t studying us.
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 patnealwild [email protected].