What a Summer with the Whales Taught Me

BY ROSIE POIRER

In the calm of a quiet afternoon I took a deep breath and plunged under the surface of the beautiful river I had walked for miles to come to visit. Immediately, I was immersed in the peace of the underwater world as the mid-afternoon sunlight streaked through the cool emerald waters- the light beams dancing across the ripples. I held my breath and swam through the river, coming across a stunning spotlight of sunlight with just a few fish swirling through. The beautiful young salmon triggered my thoughts and memories of my summer spent on the water. A summer I had dedicated to protecting a beautiful community of beings much different from me, a community that I was only just beginning to understand.

         This summer I found myself hurtled into a conservation job that I did not yet understand the magnitude of, a job that would cause me to grow and question the world I knew. My position was to help protect the endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales, off the coast of Southern Vancouver Island, whose numbers have been decreasing steadily over the years, as humanity grappled with its relationship to these whales. They were first seen as ruthless killers and shot at on site, then as squeaky aquarium pets to be captured and confined, and now as the highly social and intelligent creatures that they are. These whales suffered as we grew to understand them. This summer, these orcas gained international media attention as a grieving mother orca carried her dead baby calf for a record 17 days, begging the world to witness what we have done to them. Crippling their population and taking their food source, the salmon. Leaving them to starve while we continue to revel in their dying beauty, bringing me back to the few fish swirling in the sunlight. The spotlight fell so clearly on the epicenter of the current issue, those few salmon swimming in the light are a piece of the puzzle. Those Pacific salmon are the lifeblood of the West Coast, a keystone species across the land and sea, supporting the coastal ecosystems and all the creatures within. As we continue to over-fish them and mismanage their fisheries, we will continue to see fewer and fewer of them return to their natal rivers to breed, starving the ecosystem of the Salish Sea that so heavily relies on them and starving the beautiful orca whales the entire world has grown to love. So it is time, time to change the course of our fisheries, time to change our relationship with the land, so that we don’t lose the foundation of the coast Salish Sea, and so that it’s not just two to three fish swirling in the sunlight that I see…

Image by Rosie Poirier

Image by Rosie Poirier