THE SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCAS ARE BEING DAMMED TO EXTINCTION

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The Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) are a population of fish-eating killer whales that live in the Pacific Northwest. Their main source of food is the Snake River Chinook Salmon. Unfortunately, due to 4 hydropower dams in the lower region of the Snake River- Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite- the salmon that the Southern Residents rely on have nearly gone extinct. Every year, young salmon migrate down the Snake River from their birthplace in Idaho to the Pacific Ocean, where they will grow and eventually breed. Before the salmon reach the sea, however, they must pass through the Lower Snake River dams, where over 98% of them are killed. With their main source of food almost completely gone, the Southern Resident population has declined rapidly. Although there were once hundreds of Southern Residents, as of May 2022 there are only 75 living Southern Residents remaining, and their population is only expected to decline even further. Due to a lack of food, at least 70% of Southern Resident pregnancies fail, and less than 25% of calves survive to adulthood. If nothing is done to help them, the Southern Residents will become functionally extinct by 2035. The lower Snake River dams generate almost no usable power, and they do not provide any flood control. These dams could easily be replaced with other forms of power generation, and once the dams are gone both the whales and the salmon are expected to recover rapidly. We still have time to save the salmon- and the whales- but we need to act now. We need to breach the lower Snake River dams before it's too late.

BREAKING NEWS: The United States Council on Environmental Quality is currently taking public comments (link) on the impact of the dams on the Columbia River Basin, and on breaching the four lower Snake River dams. THIS IS OUR CHANCE TO BE HEARD! A sample email can be found here, and contact information can be found here. Let our lawmakers know that it's time to breach the dams!


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L25 "Ocean Sun", who is believed to be over 90 years old. She is the oldest living Southern Resident, as well as the only living Southern Resident over the age of 60. Photo Credit: Andrew Reding


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J50 "Scarlet", who was dubbed the "happiest whale in the world" in 2016. She died in September of 2018. Photo Credit: Clint Rivers

the Southern Residents & THE Lower SNAKE RIVER DAMS

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are a population of killer whales that live in the Pacific Northwest, primarily in the Salish Sea. Their diet consists almost entirely of Chinook salmon. Unfortunately, the Chinook salmon are dying out- and so are the Southern Residents. There are currently just 75 of these precious whales left. The nutritional stress caused by a lack of food means that many of these whales develop health issues and die young, and that most pregnancies end in failure. At least 70% of pregnancies are unsuccessful, and a majority of calves do not make it to adulthood.The Snake River, where the salmon that the Southern Residents rely on come from, is the most well-preserved salmon spawning habitat in the continental United States. The river once saw annual salmon runs consisting of over 100,000 fish. Now that number is less than 10,000, and salmon survival rates are just 0.35 - 2%. This is because of 4 hydropower dams located in the lower Snake River- Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite. These dams kill the salmon as they travel to and from their spawning ground. The turbines on the dams kill young fish as they travel downstream, and the dams themselves create reservoirs of warm water that confuse and sicken the traveling fish. The Snake River Chinook salmon are considered endangered, and there have been multiple attempts to protect them. Federal taxpayers spend $550 million annually (and have spent over $18 billion in total) on various salmon recovery plans, all of which have failed.These dams generate very little usable energy, and most of the energy that they do produce is simply sold as surplus energy instead. It would be cheaper and more efficient to invest in other forms of clean power instead. These dams do not provide any type of flood control, and some of the dams even increase the local flood risk. Expensive construction is needed on at least one of the dams in order to reduce this risk.The cost of breaching the dams would be minimal compared to the current costs of salmon recovery and maintaining the dams. Dam removal would eventually even pay for itself through the revenue generated from successful salmon recovery. In similar situations, salmon populations recover very quickly after dams are removed. Scientists believe that, once the dams are gone, the Southern Residents will recover as well.Unfortunately, we are running out of time. Less than half of the population is able to breed, and less than half of the babies born in recent years have survived. The Southern Residents are expected to become functionally extinct by 2035, and completely extinct by the end of the century, if we do not act now.The overwhelming consensus among scientists is that removing the dams is the only way to make sure that the salmon- and ultimately the killer whales as well- recover. We need to breach the dams.


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J31 "Tsuchi" and her daughter, J56 "Tofino". Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries, taken under NMFS permit #19091

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Why should I care?

Killer whales are extremely intelligent and emotional animals. Each population has their own diet, language, and culture. Killer whales live in groups of family members known as pods, and calves spend their entire lives with their mothers. Mothers pass down their languages and traditions to their calves. Pods care for their sick and injured members, mourn their lost family, and are even known to carry the bodies of deceased whales around for days. Here are just some of the heartbreaking stories of Southern Residents.

J52 "Dipper" covered in bite marks shortly before his death. Photo Credit: Kenneth Balcomb

In 2016, J28 "Polaris" passed away, leaving her 10 month old son, J54 "Dipper", behind. His 7 year old sister, J46 "Star", tried to keep him alive by bringing him fish to eat- but the lack of fish meant that she couldn't get him enough food to eat. He became delirious from illness and hunger, and he stopped swimming. Desperate to keep him alive, his sister would grab his body with her teeth and bring him to the surface to breathe. This lasted for days, and his body became covered in bite marks. Sadly, he eventually succumbed to starvation and illness and died.

J35 "Tahlequah" carrying her deceased daughter. Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research

In July of 2018, J35 "Tahlequah", a female killer whale, lost her calf just minutes after birth. The grief-stricken mother carried her daughter's body for over 1000 miles on a "Tour of Grief" that lasted for 17 days. The entire time she refused to leave her daughter behind, carrying the body even when she was visibly weak and losing weight.

How K21 "Cappuccino" looked when he was healthy (top) and when he was spotted in July 2021 (bottom). Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research and adventuresbyhip

In July of 2021, K21 "Cappuccino", a beloved member of the Southern Residents, became extremely sick. When boaters spotted him he was incredibly emaciated. His markings were pale, and he was so malnourished that his dorsal fin had fallen completely over. He was so weak that he couldn’t even battle the current and was barely able to keep himself upright. He passed away soon after, likely later that day.

J35 "Tahlequah" and her son, J57 “Phoenix”. Photo Credit: Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research

Thankfully, there is still hope for the Southern Residents. On September 4th, 2020, "Tahlequah" gave birth to a new calf, a son named J57 "Phoenix" by researchers. Only a few days later another calf, J58 "Crescent", was born to J41 "Eclipse". In January of 2021, L86 "Surprise!" gave birth to a daughter named L125 "Element". In February of 2022, J37 "Hy’Shqa" gave birth to a daughter named J59. In May of 2022, K20 “Spock” was seen with a newborn calf, K45. These births are incredibly important to the struggling population. With the dams in place, the chances of these calves surviving into adulthood are slim. In a population this small, every birth matters, and we need to protect these calves.


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J32 "Rhapsody", who died in late 2014 after she failed to expel a stillborn calf. Photo Credit: Miles Ritter

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J37 "Hy'Shqa" and her calf, J59. Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research


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LATEST News & Updates


05/26/2022 - It's a girl! J59's gender is confirmed

On May 26th, 2022, the Center for Whale Research announced that J59, the youngest member of J-Pod, was a female! J59 was born in late February to J37 "Hy'Shqa", and was spotted a few days later on March 1st. She is the first successful birth in J-Pod since the births of J57 "Phoenix" and J58 "Crescent" in September of 2020. While any new calves are an important addition to the population, female calves are especially valuable. The success of the Southern Residents is heavily limited by how many reproductive females there are, so a new addition is very exciting. You can read more about the announcement here!

Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research


05/03/2022 - K POD WELCOMES the first successful CALF in over 11 years!

K20 "Spock" has given birth to a brand new calf- K45! Spock was first spotted with the little whale on April 28th, 2022. The Center for Whale Research announced K-Pod's new addition on May 3rd, 2022, after a video of Spock and her calf surfaced online. This is the first new addition to K Pod in over 11 years! K45 is Spock's second successful calf. Her first calf, Comet, was born in 2004. You can read more about the new calf here, and you can watch the video of the calf here!

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03/28/2022 - the White house is taking comments on breaching the lower snake river dams!

The United States Council on Environmental Quality is currently taking public comments on the impact of the dams on the Columbia River Basin, and on breaching the lower four Snake River dams. On March 21st, 2022, the United States Converment consulted leaders and representitives from the Tribes of the Columbia River Basin. During these meetings, the United States was asked to hold themselves accountable for the damage that they have done to the river and it's tributaries, as well as the treaties that the United States violated by constructing the dams. The United States acknowledged the damage that the dams have done to the salmon populations, and that current salmon recovery programs are not working. One of the proposals brought forth was breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River! This is our chance to be heard! You can read more about the announcement here, a sample email can be found here, and contact information can be found here. Let lawmakers know that it's time to breach the dams!

Photo Credit: Greg Vaugn via Alamy


03/01/2022 - J37 "Hy'Shqa" gives birth to first southern resident calf since early 2021!

J37 "Hy'Shqa" has welcomed her second successful calf, J59! On March 1st, 2022, the Center for Whale Research announced that Hy'Shqa had been seen with a brand new calf! The new calf is the first Southern Resident birth since the birth of L125 in January of 2021, and is the first birth in J Pod since the births of J57 "Phoenix" and J58 "Crescent" in September of 2020. Hy'Shqa and her family were last seen by researchers on February 11th, 2022. She did not have a calf at that time, so J59 was born sometime after that. J59 was likely born just a few days before being spotted do to their "lumpy" appearance. You can read more about the new calf here!

Photo Credit: Center for Whale Research


03/01/2022 - J19 "Shachi" & J36 "Alki" have lost their pregnancies

J19 "Shachi" and J36 "Alki" have lost their pregnancies. According to scientists, Shachi and Alki, 2 Southern Residents from J Pod, have both lost their pregnancies. Their pregnancies were originally announced in September of 2021, when drone photos showed that both females were significantly rounder than usual. Unfortunately, it seems that both females have lost their pregnancies. More recent drone photos have shown that both females became drastically slimmer recently, despite the fact that neither has been seen with a calf. Both females are believed to either have experienced stillbirths, or to have lost their calves shortly after birth. You can read more about the announcement here, and you can read more about the initial pregnancy announcement here.

Photo Credit: SR3, taken under NMFS permit #22306



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J2 "Granny", who was believed to be at least 60-80 years old when she died in 2016. Photo Credit: David Ellifrit

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K37 "Rainshadow" and his older sister, K22 "Sekiu". Photo Credit: Miles Ritter

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BREAKING NEWS: The United States Council on Environmental Quality is currently taking public comments (link) on the impact of the dams on the Columbia River Basin, and on breaching the four lower Snake River dams. THIS IS OUR CHANCE! A sample email can be found here, and contact information can be found here. Let lawmakers know that it's time to breach the dams!

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