Washington state’s San Juan Island used to thrive with pods of orca and a sustainable sea of giant salmons. The community never worried about starvation or decrease in fishes, until the population of salmons declined at an alarming level, which left orcas to starve to death.

Now, the Lummi Nation, a tribe in Washington, pushes a policy to feed salmon to the wild whales.

Photograph by Grant Hindsley/The Guardian

The population of resident orcas has dropped to 75 from 100, as a result of population and ship noise from Chinook fisheries drowns their sonic communication, which hinders orcas from hunting wild Chinook. The community has seen orcas dying, miscarriages are on the rise, and baby orcas do not survive adulthood.

“The bottom line is the Salish Sea and the whales and the tribes need more salmon,” Julius, the elected leader of the 6,500 member tribe, told The Guardian. “We’re at the point now where we don’t have much time. We are possibly the last generation that can do anything about it.”

Photograph: Matthew Ryan Williams/The New York Times via eyevine

The tribe says they see orcas as part of their family and as part of their community.

Several reported death cases among orcas drew attention from the state and federal leaders, who in turn, did made efforts to save the remaining orcas by limiting fishing and restricting ship traffic. But the tribes are looking for a faster solution.

Since then, the Lummi leaders started to feed orcas “ceremonially,” and called for a large-scale feeding effort to scatter salmons around Puget Sound.

The tribe’s proposal did not receive any support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the leading agency that protects orca. They believe the whales will become dependent on humans for their survival.

Michael Milstein, public affairs officer for the agency, believes direct feeding was not “a sustainable recovery strategy.”

Samuel Wasser, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, also believes feeding the orcas is a “bad idea,” because orcas require a sustained supply of salmon if you want them to survive.

“You can’t save these animals one whale at a time,” he told The Guardian. “They are another example of an apex predator being decimated by human over-indulgence, which undoubtedly impacts ecosystem stability. As in many of these cases, we are doing too little too late.”

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