One of the things I love most about living in the Evergreen State is the abundance of life in our own backyard. Whether it be Washington’s native salmon, or local whales, our waters are home to some of the most complex wildlife.
One of Washington’s most beloved local creatures are Southern Resident orcas. These marine megafauna call Puget Sound and the Salish Sea home from late spring through the fall. Unfortunately, these orcas remain at risk of extinction. We only have 75 left. Why? They simply don’t have enough fish to eat. More than 80 percent of our orcas' diet is Chinook salmon. The majority of Chinook salmon stocks live in the Snake River, the largest tributary of the Columbia River that empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Previously, Chinook salmon swim down the Snake River and out into the open ocean where our orcas could happily feed. However, over a dozen dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers stand as barriers that prevent young salmon from reaching the ocean.
In total, dams on the Lower Snake River obstruct 140 miles of prime salmon migration waterways, and salmon populations have declined by 90 percent since they were built. All Snake River salmon runs are now listed as threatened or endangered, including the Chinook salmon that orcas depend on.
To save the orcas, we need to save their food source. If we don’t act fast to boost Chinook salmon populations, we could lose our orcas forever. The most effective thing we can do to save our orcas is breach the Lower Snake River dams.
Last winter, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, unveiled a plan to breach the four Lower Snake River dams while also making investments in the communities that have relied on the transportation, irrigation, and power generation that the dams provide. His proposal is a good start.
As Washingtonians, we have a special role to play. We are calling on Washington’s U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to support Lower Snake River dam removal to help save our orcas.
These majestic, beautiful whales live right in our backyard, and we must be good neighbors and rally to create a safe and healthy habitat for them. That's why this summer Environment Washington is going door to door in neighborhoods across our state to raise the voices of every constituent who cares about the orcas — and we’re telling our leaders that we want bold action.
Are you ready to save our orcas? We'll see you soon!
In the meantime, you can take action on this critical issue and email Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell encouraging them to save these majestic creatures before it’s too late.