Story & Photos by Gerald Patriarca
About a dozen volunteers took part in restoration work for Orca Recovery Day at Riverview Park in Kent on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 to help Southern Resident Killer Whales.
Initially only in Washington, the event now also takes place in Northern California and British Columbia.
In a partnership with Kent Parks, the event was originally set up by the Green River Coalition for Oct. 15, but was rescheduled due to poor air quality.
“The Southern Resident Killer Whale population that’s critically endangered needs salmon in order to survive,” said Shari Tarantino, Executive Director for Orca Conservancy. “Southern Residents are fish eating. Different killer whales throughout the world all have different diets.”
The group of salmon-eating orcas consists of three pods, known as J, K and L pods. There are a total of 73 whales in the three pods.
Alongside educational booths, volunteers were stabilizing the water bank by removing invasive plants along the Green River, mainly blackberries and garlic mustard, in what’s called the riparian zone.
Michael Taton is the Operations Manager for the Green River Coalition and explained the importance of the area. The riparian area is important because it is right next to the stream, he explained. As salmon needs cold, healthy water to survive, Taton said their goal is to plant trees, which provides shade to the water.
“The salmon can then survive, specifically the Chinook salmon, and that is the main food source for the Southern Resident Killer Whales,” Taton said.
Tarantino added the temperature threshold for salmon is 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Southern Residents will eat about 80 to 85 percent of Chinook salmon,” she said. “They will also eat chum. The reason we had all three pods last week for four days in a row, is because the chum run is the highest in 30 years. That is proof positive that restoration efforts are working.”
The event was also an educational opportunity for students at Green River College. The Green River Coalition partners with the college’s natural resources program, and hires students in the program “to give them a taste of nature conservation,” said Tre Winchester, a former intern.
The paid internship allows students to earn a two-year or four-year degree. According to Taton, programs include urban forestry, ecology and riparian restoration.
Educational efforts aren’t limited to volunteer or classroom work. A lot of non-profits will have webinars describing how people can help the orcas, and some will be going face-to-face with the community.
“Hopefully this will have a cascading effect later down the line,” Winchester said.
Tarantino said the struggle orcas have for food is a sign of a bigger problem. “If an apex predator, which is at the top of the food chain, starts failing, the entire ecosystem beneath it is failing and that affects us as humans.”
According to orcaconservancy.org, there are many ways to help the Southern Resident orcas, such as avoiding single use plastics, opting for sustainable seafood due to “potential transfer of diseases to wild species, [and] pollution caused by the fish excrement” and using eco-friendly products. Tarantino added making a contribution is the best way to support conservation efforts. “Please donate.”
Gerald Patriarca has a BA in Communication from Seattle Pacific University with a background in journalism. He has written articles for his high school and college newspaper, spent time as an intern at KING 5 and KOMO 4 and worked at The Seattle Times. Aside from writing, Gerald, his wife Alma, and their son James own JAG’s Auto Detail in Tukwila. To schedule an appointment and for more information, please visit jagsautodetail.com.