Radio

B.C.'s southern resident killer whales are in a fight for their lives — but there's hope

Southern resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival and recovery, with their fragile population hovering in the 70s. In the CBC Radio special A Family on the Brink, Gloria Macarenko introduces us to the J pod whale clan, the struggles they face to survive and the people dedicated to saving them.

Family on the Brink explores the whales’ decline, and what’s being done to stop it

Endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound, west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel tracking the whales. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

This special originally aired on Feb. 17, 2020.

In July 2018, a mother orca whale known as J-35 captured the world's attention when she kept her dead calf afloat in the waters off Vancouver Island for 17 days.

Some experts called J-35's unprecedented act a display of grief, but others saw it as a symbol.

That's because this wasn't just any baby orca — it was a member of the J pod, B.C.'s famous and endangered southern resident killer whale clan.

"I argue that they're closer than you will ever be with your children and your parents because they don't leave; they stay together forever. And they belong here more so than you do. And we've completely disrespected that," says Jay Julius, chair of the Lummi Nation in Washington state, whose nation has called for a state of emergency to be declared over these killer whales.

"We've created this environment and this situation that they're in now, whether or not we want to take responsibility for that. Seeing her for those 17 days tell that story, send that message, saying, 'Look at what you've done. Shame on you. Look at what we're going through.'"

According to the federal government, southern resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival and recovery, with their fragile population hovering in the 70s.

In the CBC Radio special A Family on the Brink, Gloria Macarenko introduces us to B.C.'s southern resident killer whales, the struggles they face to survive and the people dedicated to saving them. 

Scientists say there are several factors contributing to J pod's decline — from pollution to noise to lack of food. And they all relate back to one culprit: humans. 

But there's also reason for hope, as scientists fight for the orcas' survival, and the federal government enacts rules to protect them.


Click 'listen' above to hear the full special.

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