PAT NEAL: Whales’ boundless salmon appetite

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news, but there’s another toxic concern to keep you awake at night: Are your whales getting enough salmon?

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news, with foreign and domestic terrorist threats, climate change, forest fires, droughts, floods, endangered species, invasive species and a recurring disaster worse than all the others put together: a shanghaied presidential election that makes our country the laughingstock of the civilized world.

Then there are the many other toxic concerns to keep you awake at night, such as: Are your whales getting enough salmon?

A recent article in the Peninsula Daily News (“Diet Decline: Smaller Chinook Mean Lighter Meals For Resident Orcas,” PDN, July 28) detailed the exhaustive research by legions of dedicated researchers who have detailed the declining diet of the orca, or killer whale.

Scientists studying the orca fecal matter (yes this is a real job) have revealed that Southern Resident killer whales have evolved to consume a diet of king salmon or chinook in preference to all the other species.

Unfortunately, it seems that the chinook have decreased in both size and numbers to the point where the orcas have to search harder and harder for their favorite food supply.

We have all read for years about the unique and iconic 100-pound salmon that once swam up the Elwha River.

Lately, scientists have figured out that these behemoth chinook also were found in the Columbia, Kenai and Yukon rivers, and no doubt in the many of the rivers in between these legendary waterways.

My friend Harvey Pettet gaffed an 85-pound chinook out of the Dungeness River in the early 1900s, which isn’t 100 pounds, but it’s close enough to beg the question:

What happened to all the big salmon?

The current salmon famine is threatening the most important component of the whale-watching industry: whales.

The scientists are quick to parade a list of the usual suspects — overfishing, habitat loss and climate change — while ignoring another common conundrum of concern: the destruction of one endangered species by another.

No one knows how many threatened or endangered chinook migrating up rivers are consumed by threatened or endangered sea lions, while millions of threatened and endangered baby salmon migrating down the rivers are eaten by sea birds.

The scientists also conveniently ignore another common threat to our chinook, which is the continuing mismanagement of our fisheries by the myriad corrupt and incompetent bureaucracies that are managing our salmon and the forage fish they depend on into extinction under the veil of the best available science.

This startling revelation by the scientific community about the disappearing chinook would of course come as no surprise to anyone in the fishing industry.

People who fish for salmon have much in common with the orca.

We have been complaining about the lack of chinook and their smaller size for years.

While no one is studying fishermen’s fecal matter to scientifically document the fish we eat, it’s safe to assume that the chinook would be No. 1 on our menu.

That’s because the season on coho salmon has been drastically reduced or closed altogether.

Still, the government does care and worry you’re not getting enough salmon.

The state Department of Ecology is proposing new water rules that imagine each and every one of us consumes 175 grams of fish, including salmon, a day.

Salmon were once so plentiful, they used to be considered the poor man’s tuna.

With the price of salmon between 10 and 30 bucks a pound, you wonder who can afford to eat them anymore.

Coincidentally, as the orca must scatter to find salmon, the humans must explore new water and risk their lives in dangerous seas to find a salmon to eat.

As for me, I’ll try the tuna salad.

_________

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 wildlife@gmail.com.

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