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Activist and documentary filmmaker Rick Wood on protecting the Southern Resident orcas

posted Jul 11, 2017, 2:04 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Jul 13, 2017, 4:31 PM by Unknown user ]


If you missed our June 25, 2017 event at Boulevard Park celebrating Orca Month, check out the amazing speech from orca activist and documentary filmmaker Rick Wood below. And don't forget to browse the photos from the event on our North Sound Baykeeper Facebook page!

Photo of Southern Resident orcas by Rick Wood via orcaaware.org

Documentary filmmaker Rick Wood on protecting the Southern Resident orcas

By Rick Wood, director of Fragile Waters

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here today and for standing up for our beautiful Salish Sea.

I am a filmmaker and author. I am also deaf, so if you talk to me later — and I nod and smile — it means I didn't hear a word you said.

For the past six years all of my work has centered on marine mammals. Currently, I am a board member and volunteer responder with the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network. I am very passionate about the Salish Sea and all of the life in it.

When you think of marine mammals here, immediately killer whales stand out. The Salish Sea is home to fish eating and mammal eating orcas. From 2013-2015 I helped put a spotlight on the plight of the Southern Resident orcas through my film, Fragile Waters. In the film, we explored the delicate balance of man and nature, orca and water.

These emerald green waters determine the health of plants and animals — large and small — so directly that to suffer an oil spill here would be nothing short of catastrophic.

By last count, there were only 79 Southern Resident killer whales left in the world. One of those orcas lives in a tiny tank in Miami, Florida. The remaining members of this unique eco type travel many miles, searching mostly for healthy chinook salmon.

Salmon stocks are imperiled. Dams blocks their traditional spawning routes. Toxins, disease and changes in water composition have further reduced chinook salmon to less than 10 percent of their historic numbers.

We chose to call our film Fragile Waters because we know the key to saving them — to saving ourselves — lies in protecting the Salish Sea. Where there is healthy water, there is healthy life.

The southern resident orcas are spiraling towards extinction. Every moment spent removing protections, increasing threats, and not working on pollution issues seals their fate.

Time is not a luxury we can afford.

Petrochemicals are the absolute last thing you want to gamble on in an ecosystem so interdependent that any loss of species degrades the entire sea. Legacy toxins — chemicals banned for decades — remain as prevalent and volatile TODAY as they did when people used them without restriction. Again, there's no "payoff" worth the gamble of our Salish Sea.

Oil doesn't simply show up, either. It has to be transported, which means ship traffic increases. Let me explain something about killer whales. Orcas are acoustic animals. They navigate, communicate, and virtually "see" in sound. The Southern Residents are known to vocalize, in a specific dialect, with pod members. They coordinate hunting through sound, and warn one another of hazards through sound. To increase boat traffic is to further saturate their acoustic world with a cacophony of noise.

In our film, we also looked to history for lessons. More than 25 years ago, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed thousands of animals in and around Prince William Sound, Alaska. A researcher, Eva Saulitis, a friend of mine now lost to cancer, chronicled the aftermath of the spill on the orca populations there.

The Chucach transient killer whales suffered greatly. Numbering around 22 prior to the spill, their numbers fell by half within a year of the accident. Today, only seven remain — they are doomed to extinction. Those Chugach transients are living ghosts of a time when that sound was healthy. In total, more than 258,000 animals died as a direct result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We use that story as a cautionary tale in Fragile Waters — an ecological parable, which warns us of a preventable fate.

I love living here. I've lived along the Salish Sea for 13 years now, and I am still taken aback by the awe and wonder of discover that comes with every trip to the shore. Maybe it's selfish to want to preserve this beauty... maybe it's my duty to try. I have two children, and only one world to leave them.

Our resident orcas need strong voices. They need our hearts and minds to tackle the problems they face. They need us to stand up against the onslaught of outdated agendas, broken promises, and human greed. We must draw the line NOW. We must stay in the fight. We must hold onto hope.

Fossil fuels are yesterday's methods. We have new ways, safer ways, and we are innovating rapidly to reduce our dependence on oil. Maybe in the short run it will take sacrifices, but I believe the future is worth it.

No lives are expendable. If we lose the Southern Resident population, we will have lost a part of ourselves...one we cannot replace.

It's a beautiful thing to see so many folks gathered here today, because that is exactly how we change fate. Many voices united. We do it together, and as ONE, WE protect these Fragile Waters.