How to save B.C.’s dwindling killer whales? Feed them, anglers propose
A group of fishermen in Sooke is floating a one-of-a-kind plan to save B.C.’s iconic and endangered southern resident killer whales.
Anglers said with only 81 left, southern resident numbers are dwindling, drastic action must be taken to help them survive.
“Our project is basically a project which would increase production on the Sooke River to help these whales with their food needs,” said Rollie Rose, a director for the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition.
Scientists have said the orcas’ dwindling population is in part due to a lack of Chinook salmon.
The fishermen’s plan is straightforward – they want to buy and grow 500,000 Chinook smolts at the Nitinat River Hatchery near Port Alberni.
When they reach the right size, the fish would be trucked to the Sooke River, where they’d be released and, it is hoped, would help reduce stress for the hungry killer whales.
“The critical thing with this population of whales is that there’s only so many reproductive females,” Rose said. “These whales don’t have a very successful rate of birth and stress and lack of food all plays into their mortality or their survival.”
Victoria’s whale-watching industry pumps millions of dollars into the local economy and companies are embracing the unique plan to restore killer whales to the area.
“We see this as a fabulous solution, and one which could be introduced relatively quickly,” said Dan Kukat, owner of Spring Tide Whale Watching. “We don’t have decades to solve this problem.”
Marine biologist Dr. Anna Hall called it an “interesting” proposal that has merit, but said there are “big concerns” about reintroducing Chinook back into the Sooke River because there’s a chance they could inadvertently cause harm.
“As in, are they carrying a disease? We’ve all heard of that with regard to issues on our coast before, and certainly with issues around the world,” Hall said. “But hearing people wanting to act, and wanting to act now for the conservation of southern resident killer whales, is definitely encouraging.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans would need to sign off on the idea before it becomes a reality, and the federal agency would only confirm it is aware of the proposal Wednesday.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Scott Cunningham