Flight of the orca

Posted by Ken Campbell November 27, 2012 2 Comments 1033 views
I’m not sure how I missed it. I try to stay informed but somehow the story about the potential delisting of the whales caught me by surprise. In retrospect, there’s nothing surprising about it… it’s just sad.
It seems that a conservative legal foundation has won a review of the idea that the Puget Sound orcas are a separate species in need of protection. They claim that the whales are not a unique species but are rather simply a part of a world-wide orca family that is doing just fine. That even if these orca die out, we haven’t really lost anything. The population overall is doing well. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here.
The suit was filed on behalf of a couple of California farms that don’t see the need to comply with water restrictions that have been set up to help protect the orca as they travel along the coast. It’s the old story of economic good vs. species survival. Jobs, baby, jobs.
Whether the Puget Sound orca are a different species than those found elsewhere in the world’s oceans misses the point entirely. The orca that live in our waters are in dire straits and may very well be past the point of no return already. That is the salient issue and, rather than argue about their ancestry, it would be far more interesting and valuable to discuss why the animals are in peril in the first place. Why there are such high levels of PCBs and other toxins in their blood and organs. Why their mortality rate is so high. Why they are wasting away, individually and as a group.
To ask these questions might force some inconvenient answers about how we, as a species, are using and abusing the waters that the orca call home. There are issues of pollution, both of the point and non-point varieties, that 10 million people living along the shores of the Salish Sea would need to confront.  To shake hands with. To own. Add to that the problems associated with depleted salmon stocks, sonar testing and God only knows what else, and it’s sort of a miracle that the orca are still here to be argued over.
Even if we only cut down one tree at a time, eventually the forest will disappear. If we keep tossing rocks in the well, it will eventually go dry. We, as human beings, are experts in the death-by-a-thousand-cuts method of environmental destruction. This “Are they or aren’t they,” routine involving the orca of Puget Sound is another example of the kind of thinking that has brought us the climate change deniers and their mouth-breathing, flat-earth compadres who think that science is something that should be prayed away.
It’s not political. Don’t think for a moment that it is. By making arguments like this one into a political sparring session, we all end up losing. This is science – it’s numbers and it’s spiritual all at the same time. 

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