“We need to do everything possible to try to recover Chinook salmon.”

Dr. Deborah Giles
Science and Research Director with Wild Orca

Dr. Deborah Giles is a leading researcher on Southern Resident Orcas and has been working professionally on the issue since 2005, but has observed orca and their tragic decline since the late 1980s. She is currently the Science and Research Director at Wild Orca, a nonprofit organization that conducts direct non-intrusive research on Southern Residents as well as focuses on translating scientific research on whales into comprehensible information that anyone can understand. Her research involves examining whale scat for analysis of hormones (nutrition, stress, pregnancy), toxicants, gut microbiome bacteria, microplastics which can tell an extensive story about the animal they’re collecting from.

Dr. Giles warns of the drastic status of Southern Resident Orcas, since they were first listed as endangered in 2005 with 88 whales, their population has dropped now to fewer than 75. She points to three primary threats: lack of quality and quantity prey (primarily Chinook), toxicants in their environment that are ingested and metabolized from their fat stores when they no longer have sufficient food, and the presence of vessels and the noise they create. These compounding factors have placed orca in a dire position which we must take action to remedy as the fault lies with us. Orca and salmon have coevolved for hundreds of thousands of years with established cultures and ways of living, the recent expansion by non-Indigenous peoples within the last 100-200 years has “managed to completely decimate Chinook salmon throughout their entire range.” This massive decline in salmon has had horrific effects on the Salish Sea and greater Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Orca are then forced to make a change in a relative “blink of an eye” as far as evolutionary capacity goes, or else they will become extinct unless we act now.

“[This is] our fault and that’s why we need to do everything possible to try to recover [Chinook]. And so when we’re talking about what are the fastest ways to recover chinook salmon. A big one is removing dams, removing dams that are blocking passageways up to natal rivers, up to high elevations and cold water habitats. As we remove dams we’re literally removing barriers for these fish to get back to where they’re trying to get.”