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Deadliest Year for Southern Resident Orcas
Prompts Candlelight Vigil to Inspire Change

by Joanna Small
KIRO 7, December 27, 2016

An adult female orca, identified as J-16, as she's about to surface with her youngest calf, born earlier in the year, near the San Juan Islands in Washington state's Puget Sound. Whale researchers who track the small endangered population of Puget Sound orcas say three whales are believed dead or missing since summer. The Center for Whale Research says that as of Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, there are only 80 animals. Two females and a 10-month old calf are believed gone. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File September 2015 photo) SEATTLE -- The year 2016 was the deadliest year for our southern resident orcas in nearly two decades.

Tuesday night people gathered at three vigils to not only pay tribute but to fight to protect the surviving whales.

As the sun disappeared behind the Olympic Mountains, a small group gathered at Alki Beach on the shore of the powerful Puget Sound and kept the light alive; they lit candles and held carnations.

They're orca enthusiasts--orca activists.

"I call myself an orca advocate or an orcaholic," Kathy Pierce told us, laughing.

That's why she was on the beach in the cold winter wind.

"They just touch me," she said of the whales.

Tuesday's candlelight vigil was like most others--held to remember lives lost.

But the candles and flowers represented lost orca lives.

Six southern residents died in 2016-- the most recent of which washed up on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast just last week.

"This population of animals cannot afford to lose any more of their breeding females if we hope to see them in future years," explained Rachel Carbary, the advocate who organized the vigil.

Carbary says the southern residents are endangered.

There are only 79 left, and their diet consists almost entirely of chinook salmon--a food source that's population has been cut in half since the 1980s.

But Carbary says our state lawmakers can change that.

"We would like for them to show support for breaching the Lower Snake River dams, that is one thing all of the orca experts in this area have all kind of agreed upon--that that is a surefire great way to restore that river and restore the fish population that feed our orcas," she said.

While the people at the vigil can't do that themselves, what they can do is send a message--with candles, carnations and a plea.

"We could not save J24, J28, J54, L95, J14 or J55 but let's work together to save the rest," Carbary concluded.

Not all of the orcas that have died have been found, but the ones that have been found appear to have died for a number of reasons-- whether disease, trauma from a run-in with a boat, or--the most preventable-- starvation.

Joanna Small
Deadliest Year for Southern Resident Orcas Prompts Candlelight Vigil to Inspire Change
KIRO 7, December 27, 2016

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