UPDATE August 10, 2018: The mother has now been carrying the calf for seventeen days, and biologists are concerned about her health. NOAA, the Lummi Nation, and local researchers are also working to save J50, a four year old whale that is showing severe signs of malnutrition and illness.

Now is the time to call for action that goes beyond the status quo — to protect the whales and our shared waters.

Puget Soundkeeper participated in the most recent meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery, which took place August 7 in Wenatchee. It was an emotional day and it appears our leaders are beginning to listen. While the Task Force is carefully considering strategies to protect the orcas, there are stakeholders at the table that represent special interests trying to preserve the status quo and their bottom line. Your voice is essential to ensure lasting solutions are able to move forward. Please write to the Task Force today — you can use the talking points at the bottom of this page, but your message is even more powerful if personalized. Feel free to add what orca protection and clean water mean to you.

It is especially important for the task force to hear from Soundkeeper members as the Task Force and public resource agencies  consider important measures to reduce water pollution.

Thank you for taking action to protect our orcas, salmon and waterways.

July 30 2018 Statement from Soundkeeper Chris Wilke

When will we face what is needed for our endangered Southern Resident orca whales? When will we realize that their fate and ours are intertwined?

On July 24th, the newly born calf of the orca whale known as J35 lived only half an hour. Sadly, this event is all too common given the poor health of our resident J, K and L pods, as they suffer from malnutrition and toxic pollution. This distinct population has not had a successful birth in three years. This time we are witness to the mother carrying her dead calf for over a week in apparent mourning. It is a wake up call.

The Southern Resident orcas are in danger of extinction if we don’t act swiftly and boldly to address the biggest threats to their survival: lack of Chinook salmon (their primary food source), toxic pollution in the environment, and vessel noise in their feeding areas. We risk losing them forever. These orcas whales are an apex predator, meaning their health is an indicator of the health of the entire Salish Sea. 

In order to bring back healthy salmon runs in Puget Sound, we must recover habitat along rivers, streams and the Puget Sound shoreline. To ensure feeding success, we must reduce underwater vessel noise and surface disturbance in the whales’ primary feeding areas.

But quality salmon habitat and reduced underwater noise will not recover Chinook salmon if our waters are too polluted. Southern Resident Killer Whales have some of the highest toxic loading of any marine mammals anywhere in the world. Dangerous persistent contaminants like PCBs accumulate in their blubber. When they don’t have enough to eat, they live off their fat reserves, increasing their exposure. Newborn calves receive a heavy dose of pollutants through the mother’s milk. Pollution is a problem throughout the food chain, and it’s a significant reason Chinook salmon are struggling in Puget Sound.

That’s why Soundkeeper met this week with the state Department of Ecology to push them to step up and protect our waterways from toxic pollution. For this endangered population to survive, we need to restore their food source, Chinook salmon. And in order to bring back Chinook and protect the whales from toxics, we need the state Department of Ecology to adequately enforce the laws and regulations that protect our public waters.

For years, Soundkeeper has pushed for stronger regulatory limits on PCBs, toxic hydrocarbons, and other pollutants. We seek better controls to reduce polluted runoff, and stronger regulations on agricultural pollution that imperils so many freshwater streams relied upon by salmon. We need better cooperation from Department of Ecology to accomplish this.

As a citizen group that enforces the Clean Water Act, we’ve witnessed the Department of Ecology repeatedly fail to act when major polluters cause harm to public waterways. These violations often go on for years. All too often it is citizen groups that must step up when the agency doesn’t fulfill its duty to protect public resources. This failure must be addressed.

Soundkeeper is participating on the Task Force convened by Governor Inslee in May to develop recommendations for orca recovery. But the solutions have been clear for decades. We need bold, immediate action from our state agencies and elected officials to help this endangered population survive.

The health of our orcas is an indicator of the health of the entire Salish Sea. Orca whales eat the same food and breathe the same air as us. They are part of our community and have been for thousands of years. We must act now to protect them.


This event is a reminder that Puget Sound is not healthy. The problems leading to the whale’s death have been building for a long time, and the solutions aren’t simple. But there are some actions you can take to protect the orcas.

Please call for the following actions from the Task Force:

  • Strengthen standards in water quality regulations and pollution discharge permits to address toxic pollution from sewage treatment plants, pulp and paper facilities, refineries, scrap metal facilities and industrial stormwater dischargers. The state must fully implement Washington’s new water quality standards for toxic chemicals like PCBs.
  • Hold polluters accountable: The state is not doing its job to uphold existing laws, frequently giving polluters a pass to discharge dangerous contaminants to state waterways. We need stronger implementation and enforcement of existing water pollution laws like the Clean Water Act and State Water Pollution Control Act  to protect water quality and Chinook salmon.
  • Expand public investment in green stormwater infrastructure grants to reduce polluted stormwater runoff, the number-one source of toxic pollution to Puget Sound.
  • Greatly expand funding for Chinook habitat recovery including Puget Sound nearshore and riparian (stream) habitat. This is essential for recovering Chinook salmon and the forage fish that feed them.
  • Stronger implementation of best practices on agricultural land and at animal feeding facilities to reduce water pollution and high summer stream temperatures that are lethal to salmon, particularly Chinook.