Why B.C.s orcas are at risk, and whats at stake


This is a C._B._C. podcast. Should we rethink our relationship with technology in the midst of the A._I.. Revolution Sleep sleep walkers a podcast from iheartradio explores the strange consequence of human interaction with artificial intelligence with secret labs and expert guests. It's co hosts Oswald mission and care a price talk about how new technology is changing everything from falling in love to diagnosing cancer. Listen to sleep walkers on your favorite podcast APP or wherever you get front burner a mother Orca whose calf died after birth is still carrying her baby. She's still has this stress in this pain that she must be going through. Hundreds of kilometers still still carrying her lifeless cough through the waters of the Pacific northwest. I remember the so well from last summer. A mother killer whale carrying her dead calf for seventeen eighteen days seventeen days. It was heartbreaking to watch that mother is part of J pot a family of endangered southern resident killer whales who live off the coast of Washington and British Columbia right now there are a lot of worries about the grandmother of the baby calf. We were just talking about J.. Seventeen she showing signs of peanut Ted. That's the loss of blubber so pronounced that her white eyepatches trace the outline of her go the latest photos of J. Seventeen show her in really emaciated condition. The survival of these orcas has all kinds of implications patients on the environment and even the Trans Mountain pipeline from getting built the first time around. I'm Jamie Whistle today. I'm talking Catherine Wolfson. She's a producer of a new C._B._C.. podcast these really majestic creatures. It's called Killers J. pod on the brink today. We're GonNa talk about why these Wales matter. This is from Catherine. That image of that mother was just was talking about the one of her carrying her dead baby calf. It was so powerful it it looked like grief to me. Were you able to find out why she did that. It was hard not to label it as grief journalists did it activists did it. Scientists did it <hes> so we asked <hes> a lot of our guests about that <hes> we spoke to a whale researcher John Ford and certainly the length of time was unprecedented. I think so he's really the preeminent Wail scientist here on the West Coast. He's been studying them for forty years. He's a little more measured. He says you just can't know whether whales have emotion the same way that humans have emotion. Maybe is a little too who anthropomorphic we really don't know what's driving those kinds of behaviors and and what they feel whether they have an emotion like like grief reef we on but he doesn't rule it out. I think it's a really strong. <hes> instinctive drive more than anything for the whale to support its cow to keep her baby. The afloat alive or dead which in and of itself is kind of poignant but Jamie. Here's the thing to me <hes>. It doesn't really matter what J. Thirty five five was feeling or intending whether you anthropomorphized her because what she did it was received by US humans as a message ray we had our own emotions so we thought we projected our emotions. We couldn't help but connect with what this mother whale was doing. All of a sudden J. Thirty five just popped popped up very close it almost like she brought it over to me to to you know inner inner morning or during their grief there are a lot of connections between between Wales and humans they have babies at the same rate. They live for similar lengths of time. They're very cohesive family groups. We know that they're intelligent. Animals have large brains James and so it is normal to project onto them but at the bottom of it all it became a message during that summer about the plight of her pod and I think it also became sort of a bigger message about the state of our environment the impact of humans on the environment remember last summer all the forest fires as if the wildfire wildfire danger hasn't felt real enough people in Prince. George woke up to dark skies. It's in part due to the massive shovel lake wildfire burning to the West. It felt like the whole world was on fire right around that time climate change evidence was everywhere and so that display became somehow symbolic to some people I think <music> I wanNA poll on all of those threads with you today but let's talk about this pod for second J.. pod Is one whale family group but I I understand there's also Cape Cod and L. Pod as well and these make up the southern resident killer whale population in the podcast you talk about how they're on the brink. How how many of them are we talking about here right now? There's a maximum of seventy six members of the southern resident killer whale clan and the reason we say a maximum is we just don't know right now right now. They're not in our inland waters so we can't identify them the last time we saw them. <hes> there is a new baby calf so that brought the numbers up to seventy six WCHS but there's also two of them that were missing the last time we saw them so it could be as low as seventy four and you spoke about this new baby calf. It is the population Well the new baby is a huge hope so when that baby was spotted just off the coast to Pheno we've got these baby pictures they were circulated in the media from this whale watching eighteen crew that spotted it were waiting and watching because babies have <hes> a low chance of survival in their first year so I think it's too early to say that that's a we're really hopeful. Sign and that baby will survive we do know it's a female so that's great news because this pod really needs females to survive. Do we know why these cavs cavs have such a low rate of survival in their first year. We really don't there's a lot about the survival of these whales that is a little bit of a mystery still but what we do know that these whales their population as a whole faces a whole slew of threats and what are these threats okay so scientists <hes> experts and in even our own government really break it down into three broad categories. The first <hes> in the most significant is access to food then there's pollution in the water and end noise or disturbance from boats so I can break those down a little bit <hes> yeah. Can we start. Maybe with the noise issue absolutely that one really is the most politically critically significant right now I think so I you need to know that southern residents are highly vocal animals. They are so abusive to each other yeah and they really do they speak to each other. They use those calls to communicate. They also use them to find mates and crucially to find food food so both by locating prey finding out where the seminar and also by coordinating amongst themselves to hunt and noise from ships can really disrupt that so there's this release striking example we got our hands on from ORCA lab that has hydrophones along the coast and it was of northern resident killer whale so cousins the southern residents and cruise ship possum by the and you can just hear how that big ship drowns out the vocalisations but what's really a crucial is that for the southern residents their hunting grounds here in the salish sea there right in the middle of busy shipping and ferry routes the waters waters are noisy and so these animals therefore have become the symbols of <hes> the campaign against increasing fessel traffic and particularly you know at the Trans Mountain pipeline pipeline expansion right right because he's been at the center of the debate over the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project <hes> last year court ruled that the National Energy Board had failed to consider the effects increased tankers on the whales. Let's be clear our government inherited a flawed environmental review process the government's now reapproved the pipeline pipeline. We directed the National Energy Board to examine the impacts T._M.. Ex could have on the marine environment and provide recommendations and how are they saying. They're going to address Graf the whales here fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tells me that they're they're committed to more than making up for what he calls incremental Marine Traffic Nick <hes> associated with this project for these whales <hes> with things like moving shipping lanes further away from foraging areas increasing the minimum distance for whale watching boats to these killer whales and slowing down vessels and there's this big program out of the Vancouver Airport Authority called the ECO program. It's a voluntary ship slowdown initiative <hes> <hes> so it gets boats to slow down through crucial ORCA HABITAT. That's because if you slow ships down the noise usually <hes> is reduced reduced in so they've shared some pretty striking examples of a container ship before the voluntary slowdown began and then the same ship a month later during the voluntary slowdown and you can really hear the difference you know. Do People think that this is enough not for many indigenous groups here on the west coast not for the environmental groups that have been opposing this project within hours of the the Federal Joe Cabinet approval. They were back at the podium again already announcing that they're heading back to court to fight this latest approval <hes>. My name is chiefly George Wilson. I'm CICCIO modest oh to nation and once again you heard that these Wales they're going to be at the heart of this case going forward sober not done hearing about them. Our obligation is not got to oil our obligation is to the land to the water to our people to the whales you see pictured on this poster remembering the mother whale that carried her dead cuff on her head for seventeen days shoes bringing us a message and you know when we're talking about the increase of tanker traffic and the effect it has on whales where we're talking about also their inability to get food right exactly. That's what's is at the heart of it. It's not just the noise bugging them. It's the noise <hes> interfering with their ability to hunt so when we talk about food and access to Chinook Salmon there's also the decline in Chinook salmon stocks. That's a big problem but then you have to unravel. Is it that there's not enough salmon full. Stop or is it that the killer whales One thing about your cousin I found really fascinating then I didn't know before is that these whales have this historic in deeply personal meaning to indigenous populations. Yes we heard this over and over again. <hes> we spoke to the LEMme nation in Washington state as as well as the tooth nation here on the north shore near Vancouver and in in the Lemme language the name for Orca translates to our relative under under the water and it really is a family relationship they consider them to be their relatives. They're like just as close as a niece and nephew a lot of their commitment want to <hes> oppose. This project into to fight for the whales is is about that family relationship old closer than you will ever be with your children in your parents because they don't they don't leave they stay together it forever and <hes> they've been a part of this place this. They belong here more so than you do. They belong here more so than anybody else and we we lived as one with him but we look at them as they were here before us for Cutler Culture here on the West Coast I love for Wales as a little bit newer actually one of the things I got to delve into was how we really. He's to hate these animals. We used to think that they were competing with fish. So in fact our government our federal government at one point set up a machine gun on the coast nine hundred sixty one to shoot these Wales how because they thought they were stealing our fish that gum was never used it was was taken down but it's just an example of how we used to fear them think of them as pests vermin and then that slowly evolved really <hes> you could argue due to Wail capture putting putting them in aquariums later on having the whale watching industry to now where they are the mascot of our hockey team there in ads and gift shops everywhere and I always love talking to people in Vancouver about how these Wales play such a large role in their day to day lives you know people always talk about taking the ferry three and and often more times than not seeing these orca whales. It's such a classic B._C.. Moment when you're on the B._C.. Ferry the captain comes on the loudspeaker and says there's been an ORCA spotted off the port side and everybody rushes out onto the deck and the ship just about lists because everybody's watching <music> the one question that's in the back of my mind talking to view is is is what role if any is climate change playing. That's something that's the research is quite early. <hes> we hear a lot about are warming oceans and also about ocean acidification so that's the chemical shift as our oceans absorbed the carbon that's in our atmosphere and what scientists right now are trying to unravel what we can say about how climate change and ocean acidification is doing to tiny little animals that are part of the southern residents food chains so for example. There's something called Terra pod. It's this ghostly underwater free-floating snail. They're really beautiful and we know that their shells are being dissolved by the more acidic waters here along the West Coast and we also know that salmon loved to each these tiny snails so if these species are in trouble then it's going to rip up the food chain to the southern resident what's interesting to me. Is that the situation for these killer whales is really dire fire as we talked about but at the same time other types of killer whales or thriving the northern resident killer whales for example and why that some people have theories that the the northern residents are actually getting first crack at the Chinook runs runs and eating the bulk of them the southern's are downstream and they have to try and make a living on what's left they also live in far less polluted and a far less busy environment airmen on the North Coast and then those bigs killer whales transient killer whales. Those are the ones that we've been seeing. I don't know if you've seen the news coverage but they've been entering Vancouver waterways right and Berard let so these whales they've been hunting for seals and sea lions. That's the bulk of their prey and those animals are actually doing well l.. Their rebounding in the English see that's a good news story and the bigs killer whales are following them in here. It also begs the question though why are they able to thrive thrive in this urban environment. If the pollution is so detrimental to the southern residence the best answer we got as maybe it does to speak to how much more important food is because they have a bountiful plentiful plentiful food supply whereas the southern residents don't <music> and one thing are shaped like a peanut. So we saw a young whale last summer Jay fifty that was showing signs of macy ation struggling to keep up with the pod and and launched this international effort to try to save this wail veterinarians from both sides of the border were out on boats trying to figure out what was wrong with it. They eventually got got an antibiotic Dart and shot it with medication human intervention. <hes> is something that we bring to the table only as a measure of last resort we're now down to seventy five Wales in this population and we just can't afford to lose another female from this population that was to no avail in eventually did just drift away from its pod and it has now been declared dead and we're seeing the same thing happening again this summer with this really important matriarch whale j seventeen and she's the mother of j thirty five the mother that carried her calf. She has been showing signs of peanut head the last time they spotted her family and bear in mind that these Wales stick in their family groups for life. They hang out together. She wasn't there so there's worries now that she may be dead as well you mentioned engined earlier that that there are efforts to try and slow down boats to cut down on noise. Is there anything else that's being done to try to protect these creatures there. There is a lot being done. I mean I think I've mentioned they've become political poster. Children so governments have been paying attention to these Wales. Here's some numbers a- An all flash these out in a minute but the government of Canada has a hundred and sixty seven point four million dollar whales initiative in Washington State. They have a one point one billion U._S.. Dollar plan to save them so a lot of resources are being spent on these Wales and some of the initiatives are things like making making sure whale watching boats stay further away restricting commercial and recreational fisheries base closures for Salmon Fisheries in a few specific areas of importance to south resident killer whale foraging and that's led to protests in the streets here in Vancouver a lot of unhappiness among sport fisherman and I would imagine these core challenges against the T._M.. Pipeline for some some people are also an attempt to protect that absolutely yeah they I think they're going to remain at the forefront of that story over the next few years as those court challenges make their way a through the courts. There's also been three interim sanctuary zones here in crucial habitat on the south coast in the U._S.. They're similar or measures salmon restoration and I don't know if you've been following the story here in B._C.. But we're going to great lengths to save the Salmon. There's tens of the thousands of salmon right now trapped behind a rockslide N._B._C.'s interior and the government has been using helicopters and they're talking about using something called a fish sh- cannon to get them past that rock side so the food source. There's a lot of resources and attention being spent on that <music> to end this conversation today. If these southern resident killer whales go extinct. What would the consequences be well a lot of people well? We talked to said that it would be a failure of humans it would be symbolic of our our stewardship of the oceans and of the species he's with whom we share this coast so I'll give you a little personal story Jamie we were talking about seeing Wales off of fairies. When I was first gathering tape wait for this podcast the very first interview I was on a little fairy going to Quadra island and we got that call there's whales off the port side and I actually grabbed my four year year old daughter and we ran to the side and she saw killer whales for the first time and it was just one of those amazing moments and she was so excited and now reflecting back? I do wonder how many of those settings is she going to have when she grows up and what will her children see in our oceans interviewing so many people who care here so passionately about these animals really made me realize how much we have right now and how much we stand

Coming up next