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Karl Solomen courtesy of the Center for Whale Research

Orcas need bountiful salmon runs

Orcas, Salmon, and the proposed Chehalis River Dam

WILD SALMON NEWS A project of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition

Special Naturalists' page on salmon and toxins

Southern Resident orcas depend on bountiful Chinook salmon runs, which, in turn depend on abundant forage fish. Here is a summary of Puget Sound's forage fish.

Overall salmon runs are in deep and historic decline, and persistent Toxic Contamination, especially polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other organic chemicals, like DDT and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), continue to leach into the marine ecosystem and move inexorably through the food web. Over decades these contaminants have gradually become lodged in the whales' blubber layers in massive quantities, sometimes with lethal results.

Levels of PCBs and PBDEs (flame-retardants added to manufactured products) attach to fat cells and accumulate over the life of marine mammals, severely impairing development and immunity in orcas, but fortunately are gradually decreasing throughout the marine food web, including in orcas and humans.

Navy sonars: A complete description of how powerful sonars used for undersea warfare cause severe injuries and death to marine mammmals can be found in Navy sonar and cetaceans: Just how much does the gun need to smoke before we act?

To understand the deep interconnections between salmon and orcas, and insects and crab larvae and eagles and rockfish and all the other inhabitants of the Salish Sea, go to:

Pacific Salmon and Wildlife: The Cedarholm Report

Ecological Contexts, Relationships, and Implications for Management

Jeff Cederholm shows a salmon
Jeff Cederholm shows a salmon to students
Photo by Mike Salsbury/The Olympian

"Salmon act as an ecological process vector, important in the transport of energy and nutrients between the ocean, estuaries, and freshwater environments. The flow of nutrients back upstream via spawning salmon and the ability of watersheds to retain them plays a vital role in determining the overall productivity of salmon runs. As a seasonal resource, salmon directly affect the ecology of many aquatic and terrestrial consumers, and indirectly affect the entire food web. The challenge for salmon, wildlife, and land managers is to recognize and account for the importance of salmon not only as a commodity resource to be harvested for human consumption, but also for their crucial role in supporting overall ecosystem health. It is also important that the naive view of wildlife as only consumers of salmon be abandoned. Many species of wildlife for which hard earned environmental laws and significant conservation efforts have been established (e.g., grizzly bears, bald eagles, river otters, killer whales, beaver), play key roles in providing for the health and sustainability of the ecosystems upon which salmon depend. As the health of salmon populations improves, increases in the populations of many of the associated wildlife species would be expected. Salmon and wildlife are important co-dependent components of regional biodiversity, and deserve far greater joint consideration in land-management planning, fishery management strategies, and ecological studies than they have received in the past."

The LA Times report shows how habitat degradation harms orcas.

human population chart
Our own population continues to grow, while our biological support system shrinks.

If the orcas could say only one thing to us, it would probably be:
"Bring back the fish."
Below are some references for guiding salmon recovery.

Global Warming on the Hot Seat

Treaty Rights At Risk
Ongoing Habitat Loss, the Decline of the Salmon Resource,
and Recommendations for Change
July 14, 2011

Whidbey Watershed Stewards, A community group working to restore, preserve, and protect watersheds and water quality on Whidbey Island in Washington.

Save Our Wild Salmon's Columbia & Snake Rivers Campaign

When Lewis and Clark encountered the Snake River (and the Indian people who helped to save their lives) in 1805, five to eight million wild adult salmon returned from the Pacific Ocean to the Snake each year. Today, after the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's expedition, a mere five thousand wild salmon, of all species, return to the Snake. All five species of Snake River salmon and steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, headed toward extinction. The primary reason is that eight federal dams and reservoirs now lie between the inland streams where salmon are born and the ocean where they spend most of their lives.
The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition was created in 1991 to unite conservationists, sport and commercial fishers, and salmon-based businesses in support of five principles:
  • return salmon to their rivers: protect and restore spawning, rearing, and migratory habitat;
  • conserve the genetic heritage and biological diversity of wild salmon populations;
  • restore productive Tribal and non-Tribal fisheries that allow the rebuilding of wild salmon stocks;
  • restore wild salmon at least cost to other river users and society as a whole;
  • foster cooperation among all citizens committed to wild salmon recovery.
The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association
A model salmon restoration project based in Bellingham, Washington.

Contaminant Exposure in Juvenile Salmon, NMFS Publications.
The Question of Hatchery Fish
NOAA's Salmon Hatchery Questions & Answers
Salmon Restoration Activities
Salmon life cycles for teachers
Salmon Restoration Books
Salmon Restoration Videos
Salmon Restoration Curriculum Resources

Governmental, Tribal and Non-Governmental organizations
working to restore salmon

Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. As one of the state's overriding environmental challenges, the job of restoring troubled wild salmon stocks involves every Washington citizen. This web site is intended to provide natural resource managers, local governments, volunteers, educators and other citizens with the information and resources they need to become effective participants in salmon recovery. See What Can You Do for guidance in how you can personally act to restore salmon and orcas.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission is dedicated to assisting treaty tribes in conducting biologically sound fisheries.

Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, made up of four Columbia Basin tribes. These tribes are the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Salmon Restoration Home Page is a product of Washington State University. Faculty and staff have been invited to share their areas of interest, expertise, and capabilities. Use this link to access information about the people, activities, resources, publications and other educational materials.

Columbia Basin Research Data Access in Real Time (DART) provides forecasts, analysis tools, etc. from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences of the Univ. of Washington.

Organizations, Groups and Alliances dedicated to salmon restoration
  • Save Our Wild Salmon is a nationwide coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sportsfishing associations, businesses, river groups, and taxpayer advocates working collectively to restore self-sustaining, healthy, and abundant wild salmon to rivers, streams and oceans of the Pacific Salmon states.
  • Wild Fish Conservancy is a leading advocate for the conservation and recovery of Washington’s wild-fish ecosystems.
  • Georgia Strait Alliance, based in British Columbia, is involved in a wide variety of initiatives to improve the health of our coastal waters.
  • Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative "The Northwest Straits is a complex and diverse waterway, rich in beauty and economic benefits. But this ecosystem and some of its marine resources are in serious decline. Bottomfish, sea birds, invertebrates, salmon, and even some populations of marine mammals have declined precipitously since 1980."
  • National Wildlife Federation strives "to protect the runs that we still have left and find ways to bring back the salmon that we have lost."
Photo by Jim Maya
Photo by Jim Maya

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