#MapMonday: Promise the Pod

In our first episode of #MapMonday our GIS and Technical Computing Associate, Mae, takes us through our newest story map on southern resident orcas. Robb, our Northwest Representative, drops in to talk about why these whales are so important to the Northwest and why they’re so endangered. You can check out the story map here: https://dfnd.us/promisethepod

Click to view video transcript

Hey there everybody! I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the most endangered population of orcas in the entire world - the southern residents.

These incredible creatures rely on salmon as their main food source and right now, they’re in need of our help.

Salmon runs are becoming threatened or endangered because of factors like development, pollution, barriers, and climate change.

Defenders of Wildlife has joined the Promise the Pod campaign that is bringing together multiple groups, working to restore salmon habitat with one goal: save the orcas we all love.

Southern resident orcas can be found off the western coast of the United States and Canada; from British Columbia all the way down to central California.

They have three different family groups or “pods” that they tend to stick with: J pod, K pod, and L pod.

J pod hangs out in the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea for most of the year while K pod and L pod tend to travel a bit more down the coast in the winters and head back up to the Salish Sea for the summer.

Last year, L pod made big news for their appearance as far south as Monterey Bay, California. No matter where they are though, these orcas are in search of their primary food source - salmon, and like all predators, orcas follow their prey.

Salmon are becoming harder and harder for these orcas to come by as dams on rivers block and slow salmon migration from the ocean to their spawning grounds, which are often hundreds of miles inland.

Urban development and flood plains and deforestation along rivers both destroy important habitats for salmon and increase polluted runoff into local waterways.

These impacts are causing salmon runs to become threatened and endangered throughout the West coast.

Defenders of Wildlife has been hard at work pushing for the removal of four dams along the lower Snake River, which is likely the single most effective action we can take to restore enough salmon to support healthy orca populations currently.

By removing these dams, we can increase salmon access to over 5,000 miles of free-flowing, climate-resilient and federally protected spawning habitat in central Idaho and restore the populations of large healthy salmon that make this journey and are such a critical part of orcas’ diets.

There are also programs like the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration program, which works to restore critical salmon habitat as well as Defenders’ own Orcas Love Raingardens program, which works with students to create raingardens to help filter toxic runoff before it heads out to critical waterways and the Puget Sound where these salmon and orca are found.

Rob Krehbiel, our Northwest representative, lives up in Tacoma Washington, right by the Puget Sound.

For him and many others in the Pacific Northwest, the southern residents are more than just another cautionary tale. They are their neighbors, a species under threat and is disappearing before their very eyes.

Let’s take it over to Rob to learn more.

Thanks, Mae! So like Mae said, I live out in the Northwest here in Tacoma and these Southern Resident orcas are really special to folks like me who live out here.

People in Seattle and Tacoma can frequently see these orcas just off the coast of our cities, and for the dozens of tribes that live out here in the Northwest since time immemorial, these whales are extremely culturally important.

Unfortunately, there’s just 72 of them left, making them one of the most endangered populations of wildlife in the United States and if we don’t act fast, we may lose them forever.

To better protect these orcas, we need to better understand them and the threats that they face and that’s why this map is so important.

It shows how habitat destruction and dams have really reduced the amount of prey available to these orcas but how through investments in estuary restoration, tree planting, and raingardens, we can start to reverse the trends that have put these orcas on a path towards extinction.

So with that, I encourage you all to check out the map and I will turn things back over to Mae.

Thanks, Rob! So if you want to read more about the southern residents or support some of the incredible work these groups are doing to restore this critical food source for orcas, check out our story map.

You can also check out Orcas Love Raingardens at orcasloveraingardens.org, which has plenty of resources for building a raingarden in your own backyard, which could be a great activity while you’re stuck at home.

Thanks for watching and we hope you’re all staying safe and healthy!

Mae Lacey
Previous Conservation GIS Analyst

As the previous Conservation GIS Analyst in the Center for Conservation Innovation, Mae provided support and leadership for geospatial product development across Defenders.