Starting July 16, the Whale Sanctuary Project will kick off a series of public meetings across the Salish Sea region to discuss its concept for a home in the San Juan Islands for orcas who are retired from entertainment parks, and that can also serve as a rehab/rescue facility for the endangered Southern Resident orcas.
“Last summer we all had a front row seat to Tahlequah’s ‘tour of grief,’ when she carried her dead baby for 17 days, and then again for the demise of the young orca Scarlet. This is part of an ongoing tragedy that we can’t look away from,” says Dr. Lori Marino, founder and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project. “Southern Resident orcas continue to struggle for survival, so we need to be able to quickly and effectively assist NOAA in supporting these dire cases, as well as righting a wrong that goes back decades.”
The plight of Southern Resident orcas has led to an all-hands-on-deck emergency, with the Washington state legislature passing numerous pieces of legislation to help our ailing orcas. The Southern Residents’ struggles date back to the 1970s, when, over the course of a decade, about 300 orcas were captured in the Pacific Northwest and sold for profit to entertain tourists in marine parks. The Southern Residents have never recovered from the decimation of their numbers, and their progeny continue to live totally unnatural lives in concrete tanks.
The Whale Sanctuary Project will address both these issues: It will provide a permanent home in a natural habitat for orcas who are retired from entertainment parks. And it will serve as a first line of defense for our ailing wild orcas. Rather than rescue teams having to scramble for a sea pen and veterinary assistance each time a crisis arises with one of the Southern Residents, the sanctuary will be a fully-staffed facility standing by to help any whales who live-strand or need special care so that they can be assisted and returned to their families as quickly as possible. (A rendering of the sanctuary can be viewed here.)
Over the last two years, using nautical charts, computer maps and recommendations from locals, the Whale Sanctuary Project has researched dozens of possible sanctuary locations in the Pacific Northwest.
“We are focusing on four central considerations,” says Charles Vinick, Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. “Physical criteria for the locations themselves; suitability for long-term sanctuary and for rescue and rehabilitation; concerns for wildlife; and compatibility with local communities and other stakeholders. We’ll be discussing all of these during the public meetings, as well as other community questions and concerns.”
The Whale Sanctuary Project is working closely with the people of the Lummi Nation of the Pacific Northwest, for whom the Southern Resident orcas are qw’e lh’ol’ me chen – “the people who live under the water.”
“We are honored to be collaborating with the Lummi Nation as they work to return Sk’aliCh’elh- tenaut (the captive orca Lolita) to her family,” Vinick says, “and to work toward creating a model sanctuary that can also serve free-ranging whales who may need assistance.”
Jeff Foster, who led the whale sanctuary site search, and is the project’s animal transfer and rehab coordinator will also be on hand at the meetings to answer questions.
Here also is a recent Forbes piece on tomorrow’s national release of “Long Gone Wild,” the orca capture documentary, which provides the local and global backstory on the momentum building toward an orca whale sanctuary in the San Juan Islands.
Public Meeting Details (all events are public and open to the media)
Olympia – Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Capitol Room
415 Capitol Way N
Street parking and small adjacent lot.
Gig Harbor – Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Ocean5 – Atlantic Ocean Meeting Room
5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Parking on site.
Seattle – Thursday, July 18, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Great Hall at Green Lake – Great Hall
7220 Woodlawn Ave NE
Paid underground parking below PCC Community Market (one block from venue)
San Juan Island (Friday Harbor) – Sunday, July 21, 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:30)
Brickworks Event Center
150 Nichols St.
Plaza parking and street parking.
Orcas Island (Eastsound) – Tuesday, July 23, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Emmanuel Episcopal Church – Parish Hall
242 Main St.
Lopez Island – Wednesday, July 24, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
4102 Fisherman Bay Rd.
Parking on site.
Please contact us with any questions.
The mission of the Whale Sanctuary Project is to establish a model seaside sanctuary where whales and dolphins can be rehabilitated or can live permanently in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat.