The Family Orca Picnic comes to Cattle Point this Sunday

Column: Province gives orcas a month of their own

Barbara Julian is a local writer and nature enthusiast. She writes monthly about some of the amazing creatures on Oak Bay doorsteps.

“Suburban wild” meets real wild at the shoreline that divides us terrestrials from the marine world.

There, three orca pods pursue their collective life alongside us, sometimes a mere mile or two away. They have produced nine new members in the past year and a half, although at least one has already died and not all are expected to live past their first year.

For those who survive into adulthood, what will life be like?

In killer whale society, both male and female offspring live near their mothers for life, infant care being shared among older sisters and aunts, with post-menopausal grandmothers leading the group.

Communication takes place over vast underwater distances using sound waves sent and received through specialized membranes in the whales’ heads, jaws and blowholes. By this echolocation whales mentally map the contours of the sea bed and find schools of salmon.

Ever-increasing commercial and military shipping sonar interferes disastrously with their ability to communicate and find prey.

By the time the local newborns have grown, how much more sonar and mechanical noise will reverberate through their world?

And how much salmon will be left? We have depleted salmon stocks through river habitat destruction as well as over-fishing, not only taking fish but leaving gear behind in which whales are regularly entangled. Fishing lines join everything from shoes to tennis balls in the stomachs of orcas, along with a literal ocean-full of plastic bags.

The issue is as black and white as an orca: either these threats are mitigated or B.C.’s most famous wildlife species will die out.

The province has proclaimed June 2016 Orca Awareness Month, and local conservationists, citizen scientists, artists and writers are gathering to focus on the whales’ needs.

On June 11 at 1:30 p.m. at Oak Bay United Church hall, marine protection will be discussed by MPs Elizabeh May and  Randall Garrison (who has tabled a motion in parliament for a recovery plan for resident orcas).

North Saanich and the Islands MLA Gary Holman will promote Marine Conservation Area status for Georgia Strait. Deborah Dickson will explain the Salish Sea Biosphere Initiative and Dr. Jason Colby, associate professor of history at the University of Victoria, will discuss the changing human relationship with orcas in the Salish Sea and the importance of international protection strategies.

B.C.’s Orca Month coincides with the one celebrated in Washington State, since activists both here and there are working for the same whales in the same waters.

Sailors are encouraged to cruise across Haro Strait to Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island (you can see it from Saanich-Oak Bay) on June 25, where at 6 p.m. the passing orcas will be serenaded at the annual Orca Sing Concert, sponsored by the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.

Other free events in Oak Bay include a Family Orca Picnic with kids’ crafts after a Tide Pool Walk hosted by Friends of Uplands Park, at Cattle Point from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 5, and readings by local writers at Bowker Creek behind Oak Bay High School, 2 p.m. on June 18 (open mic, anyone can perform).

The Oak Bay Green Committee is a generous sponsor of Orca Month, and on June 25 at their morning Recycle Depot next to Carnarvon Park, marine plastic debris will be highlighted with displays and information, plus music by the Bald Eagles.

Everyone is invited to stop by to listen, have a snack, drop off plastic and pick up knowledge.

Orca Month needs volunteers, and anyone interested is urged to contact naturalreviews@hotmail.com.

Folks are also encouraged to come up with their own Orca Month celebrations, and tell others about them at the same address for inclusion on the website orcamonthbc.blogspot.ca.

Follow the project on Twitter @orcamonthbc.

 

 

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