I recently attended the Economic Developmental Council luncheon and was thoroughly informed about the global/local impacts of freshwater scarcity by policymaker Rachel Cardone and about the environmental imperative of our regional saltwater industry by maritime expert Joshua Berger.
Excellent presentations about both economics and the environment preceded by excellent news from EDC Executive Director, Victoria Compton, who reported, for the first time in all her years as director, that the economic news was good in San Juan County. She also reported on the work the EDC does with youth in the community and the very successful Trades and Marine Education programs underway.
It was a global/local event that addressed our inter-dependence with the environment as well as our dependence upon local economy. Kudos to the EDC and to Victoria Compton and staff for seeing the needs of the big picture as well as the needs of our small county and its residents.
And then we have the San Juan County Visitors’ Bureau. Earlier in the week I viewed their current summer video regarding visiting the San Juan Islands. It focuses on the message, “Yes, you can watch whales from land but being out on a boat, WOW!”
I’m paraphrasing in a few words the overlying and underlying message that watching whales from boats is the only way to go. But I’m not paraphrasing the last few sentences in the video: “…. whales are really special. I feel really fortunate to live in their home and care for them. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Well, yes, we do live in their home, but we are certainly not caring for them. The Southern Resident orca whales are facing imminent extinction. Noise and disturbance in their core critical habitat is depriving them of dwindling food resources and driving them away. The sound frequency from the engines and propeller cavitation immediately blocks the ability of the Southern Residents to locate food, communicate with their family, and navigate. It is “acoustic hell” according to acoustic scientist, Dr. Chris Clark.
This week the Pacific Whale Watching Association announced its new guidelines. The sad truth is they have continuously avoided respecting long-established guidelines and their “new” guidelines are not nearly enough to help save the Southern Residents from extinction.
NOAA is currently sitting on making a decision regarding a petition for guidelines that will make a difference. It is a petition that was submitted in November 2016 calling for a Whale Protection Zone that extends three-quarters of a mile offshore of San Juan Island from Mitchell Point south to Cattle Pass. It also requests a one quarter-mile wide buffer zone adjacent to the WPZ in order to give necessary quiet and rest when vessels are near the boundary. All the science behind this request can be read in the petition: http://www.orcarelief.org/regulatory-request/
Public comment on this petition ended in April 2017. NOAA has not yet issued a decision regarding the request.
The continual exploitation of the Southern Residents, from self-serving science, to porn-based fund-raising, to tourist invasion, to marketing song-and-dance, is sad beyond words. It represents the tidal shift towards annihilation of all that matters for the sake of profit. And just, who, precisely, is profiting?
Most of the members of the Pacific Whale Watching Association are based in Canada. Most of the U.S. companies are based elsewhere—in Bellingham, Anacortes, Port Townsend, Port Angeles, Whidbey Island. According to recent research, most of the onboard whale-watching tourists don’t spend much time or money in the islands and most of the whale-watching on San Juan Island actually happens from onshore at Lime Kiln State Park. So, what exactly is motivating the Visitors Bureau to focus so heavily on offshore whale-watching? In doing so, the Visitors’ Bureau is selling out the waters to invaders and investors, completely neglecting environmental awareness and responsibility, and pushing the Southern Resident orca whales closer and closer to extinction.
A Whale Protection Zone in their core critical habitat, enforced by AIS (Automatic Identification System) is the simplest, most cost-effective way to give a last-chance-of-survival opportunity to the Southern Residents. It is an effort that has been continually ridiculed by the whale-watching industry. “The whales don’t even go there anymore,” is the mantra. Well, why would they? If my refrigerator exploded when I opened it, I wouldn’t go there either. Let’s really give them their home back and see what happens.
The EDC deserves an award for being the EEDC, the “Environmental Economic Development Council.” The Visitors’ Bureau deserves a wake-up call. The Pacific Whale Watching Association might deserve a marketing medal but certainly not a round of applause.
These days, doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, is getting more and more appreciated by the public-at-large. It would be terrific if locally-owned whale-watching companies could offer “Save the Whales Nature Tours” and give visitors an experience with the real beauty of these waters—the peace, quiet and tranquility that most of us moved here for—and the authentic nature-based experience that reflects our connection to the natural world, not our noisy, invasive, insensitive dominion over the natural world.
We don’t need a Salish Sea World at this fragile time in our history. We need environmental wisdom, compassion for life, and integrity in decision-making. Canada just limited their Chinook fishery in order to help save the Southern Resident orca whales from extinction. It’s time for a Whale Protection Zone that really makes a difference. Through serving the authentic well-being of our Southern Resident orca whale neighbors, San Juan County could become a big draw as “The Little County That Cares.”