by Keith Stewart
It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to watch (and hear).
Photograph: Michael Weiss/Hysazu Photography
For the past nine days a grieving mother orca has carried the body of her dead calf.
The calf was the first in years to be born into the endangered Salish Sea orca population, but it died within just hours. The mother Orca however refused to leave her baby behind and instead carried its body with her. She pushed it by herself for days.
When she started falling behind the rest of the pod — the pod joined her in pushing and supporting the infant’s body.
It’s a truly inspiring and heartbreaking story – watching another species mourning its loss in such a dramatic manner. It speaks to the deep love that a mother has for her child, and the importance of a community especially in a time of grieving.
Unfortunately, while we all try to deal with this immediate loss, the future of the pod is also dire.
This population of orcas is on the edge of extinction. There are only 75 Southern resident orcas left in existence. Another adolescent has already been observed as extremely emaciated and because of dwindling food supplies, and increased marine traffic, the entire population is at risk.
Add to this already bleak situation the pipeline Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just pledged to buy for $4.5 billion – the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX). TMX is a massive new tar sands pipeline that would bring a very toxic substance called bitumen from Alberta, Canada to British Columbia and right through the heart of the whales’ habitat.
Only 75 Southern Resident Orcas remain.
One of the reasons these orcas are struggling to survive is because the Chinook salmon they depend on for food are in decline. Without enough salmon to eat, the orcas are literally starving to death. They’re severely emaciated — observers can even see the ribs of some of the whales.
The TMX pipeline would cross over 1300 streams and rivers on its way to the ocean and would put this key food supply even further at risk.
If it goes ahead, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion could also turn the home of the 75 remaining orcas into a tar sands tanker superhighway – bringing over 400 tankers through their critical habitat every year.
The noise from a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic may interfere with the orca’s ability to find what little food there is left to eat. It will put them at greater risk of being struck by a tanker. And a catastrophic oil spill could be the final nail in their coffin (as the Exxon Valdez spill devastated other orca pods).
These whales can’t just move on to another area. Their home is in the Salish Sea. We can’t let it be put at risk.
Justin Trudeau promised to protect these beautiful animals (in fact it’s a Federal responsibility). Buying a pipeline that would further endanger these fragile creatures and virtually ensure their demise isn’t the way to do it.
The whales are crying out for our help. Listen to their cries.
Tell Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to protect the orcas and stop the pipeline bailout.