This was written by Emeralde O'Donnell. She is an undergraduate studying Resource and Environmental Management and English with a passion for public engagement.
July 1st, 2017 marked the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and brought with it the objections and celebrations of many Canadians. With all the protests and hype leading up to it, however, those of us in B.C. might have missed another important celebration; for 11 years, June has been a month for Washington to raise awareness and celebrate the orcas of the Salish Sea.
But why is this relevant to us, British Columbians? The Salish Sea makes up both the North-Western coast of the States, as well as the South-Western coast of Canada – that means us! Last year, Oregon and British Columbia joined Washington, making June 2017 B.C.’s second Orca Awareness Month.
With chemical and noise pollution increasing and salmon populations declining, our orcas on the coast of B.C. are at risk. The most polluted marine mammals on the planet, they are facing a high level of toxins in our waters. Top of the food chain, they have high concentrations of pollutants such as lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (toxic manmade chemicals that are very difficult to breakdown).
Noise pollution is equally harmful. Due to their use of echolocation, orcas are very sensitive to underwater sound waves. Noise pollution produced by water traffic, such as tankers and whale watching boats, can prevent them from communicating and locating their prey, and can even drive communities away from an area. And declining salmon populations from overfishing, aquaculture, and habitat degradation also threaten our southern residents as they rely on salmon for food.
Why is it important to bring attention to these issues? The answer is simple: because we, as individuals, can do something about it! It is important to be conscious of the wider world impacts the things we do in our everyday lives can have. Educate yourself and your friends on them, and try your best to implement habits that reduce your impact. Here are some things you can start doing today from Georgia Strait’s '10 everyday things you can do to protect southern resident killer whales':
Dispose of medications at the pharmacy
Choose sustainable seafood
Use reusable shopping bags
Say no to balloons!
Cigarette butts go in the garbage, not on the ground!
There are many organizations out there that are already actively working on initiatives that will benefit orcas and our oceans. Support them and use them to keep you informed! Your support will help them to accomplish their efforts, making a larger scale impact than your own day to day choices. Here are some organizations to get you started: Georgia Strait Alliance, linked earlier, is an organization solely devoted to the conservation of the waters of the Strait of Georgia. Pacific Wild, based in B.C., focuses on conservation efforts in the Great Bear Rainforest and has some ocean-specific campaigns. You can sign a pledge here in support of the Great Bear Sea’s protection.
As stewards of the environment and citizens of British Columbia, it is our duty to be active in the protection and preservation of iconic species, such as the orca, that make up a huge part of our provincial identity. With Canada 150 in everyone’s minds, it is time to ask ourselves what we want “Canada” to mean in future celebrations.