The Whale Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Barbara, is proposing to build a net pen for orcas in Puget Sound. The facility would be used either as a “retirement” pen for captive orcas, or to support direct intervention with southern resident orcas. These are both bad ideas for critically endangered J, K and L pods. KNKX reporter Bellamy Pailthorp covered the story here:
Putting non-native orcas into southern resident orca range is a bad idea, for the biological and cultural risk it would introduce to these struggling native pods. So long as the risk of disease transmission or cultural disruption is greater than zero, it cannot be tolerated.
Capturing southern residents – even temporarily – is even worse, for the trauma and stress it would cause these families, and for the risk that a captured individual would end up in permanent human care. If a whale has a disease that can’t be treated, it will not be released back to its pod.
In 2002 I was a citizen organizer on the project to rescue Springer, the orphaned orca. We supported direct intervention with Springer, and tolerated the risk that something would go wrong, because it was the only way she could be returned to her pod.
Separating an orca from its family, even for altruistic reasons, is cruel and inhumane – a fate we cannot invite or accept for southern residents, or indeed any orca.
The plan is made worse because the southern residents suffered so mightily during the capture era, losing more than one-third of their total population, and have that in their cultural memory. For decades, they avoided places like Penn Cove, where captures occurred.
We understand the humanitarian concern behind the Whale Sanctuary’s proposal. We encourage the Sanctuary to put their facility anywhere but here, or in the range of any resident orcas.
Rather than building net pens to hold ailing southern residents, help us fix the problems that are making them sick.
Instead of building a net pen for non-native orcas, help us turn the Salish Sea into an actual sanctuary for the orca who already live here.
J pod approaching Point Robinson, Vashon Island. Photo by Mark Sears, Permit 21348