Attitudes towards Orcas have changed

It wasn’t that long ago that orcas were being shot at because people thought they were responsible for the decline in salmon populations.

Luckily for the orca, as well at the ocean ecosystem and the local whale watching companies, those views have changed.

B.C. is joining Washington State in celebrating June as Orca Awareness Month.

“These are animals that live together as a community,” said Jack Springer, owner of Campbell River Whale Watching. “They stay with mom their whole lives. These are animals who play and rub and touch and socialize and are intelligent.”

Though attitudes towards orcas have changed, the species is on the endangered list. In the North Island area there are around 250 orcas, but near the South Island there are only around 85.

Orcas reach sexual maturity in their early teens. They nurse consistently for the first year and on and off for a year or two after that, so they can only have babies every four years or so. Female orcas lose their ability to have babies in their late 30s to early 40s, but, much like humans, can live as much as 40 years after that.

In the J-pod near Victoria J-2, otherwise known as Granny, is over 100 years old.

Though they are now protected, not killing the killer whales isn’t enough to save and restore the population.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has guidelines to minimize human impact on marine wildlife as well as increase enjoyment of wildlife encounters.

The first is to be cautious and courteous by approaching areas where there is the potential for interaction with marine wildlife with extreme caution. When approaching a whale, speed needs to be reduced to seven knots when within 400 metres of the nearest whale. Boats are to keep clear of the whales path and always approach from the side and move parallel to them.

All vessels are to stay 100 metres away from all whales. If the whales are travelling close to the shore, the vessel should remain on the offshore side of the whale. The maximum recommended viewing time is 30 minutes so that other vessels also get a chance.

Do not touch or feed marine wildlife.

The Centre for Whale Research also has recommendations for day-to-day changes that will keep the water cleaner before it affects the orcas.

Their first recommendation is to be more careful with what goes down the drain. Avoid disposing of food, grease, oil or fat down the drain.

Medication should also not be flushed or tossed down the drain because lots of the ingredients don’t get broken down when they go through the water treatment process. Hazardous chemicals also make their way to the ocean, so they should either be avoided or properly used and disposed of. The centre also recommends using more natural personal products such as perfumes and laundry soap and avoiding the use of fertilizer and pesticide in yards.

The centre also advocates for other sustainable living practices such as reducing, reusing and recycling and planting a vegetable garden or shopping locally.