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Whale Watchers Scholarship 2018 Contest – 3rd Place

December 28, 2018

This is our second year of our whale watchers’ scholarship in order to raise awareness and give back to the community. As we said last year, We understand that the pursuit of education and knowledge will lead to better solutions in the future, and want to help students to be able to afford the costs of attending post-secondary education. The applicants were asked to answered the following question:”WHAT PRACTICAL CHANGES CAN PEOPLE MAKE TO ENSURE CANADIAN OCEANS ARE A SAFER PLACE FOR WHALES?”. The application was opened to students in the US and Canada with a passion for the ocean and it’s wildlife.

The Results

We received so many amazing entries this entries, making it hard to pick winners. We will post our top 3 winning entries, 1 per week for the next 3 weeks. Here is our entry #3 from Lewis M. McGinn from Capilano University:

“our everyday consumer choices matter”

In late July 2018, members of the scientific community were relieved to observe a newborn calf swimming beside J35, a proud mother orca belonging to a pod of the Salish-Sea orcas, the Southern Residents. This relief turned to consternation when the new-born calf died only hours later. Over the next few weeks, observers witnessed unforgettable emotionalism that is rarely glimpsed in the, oft-severe, natural world: like any grieving mother might, J35 swam beneath her deceased calf, providing buoyancy to its otherwise lifeless body in a heartbreaking display of maternal instinct. She continued, dangerously neglecting her own needs, for seventeen days straight. For a few brief hours, the endangered Southern Residents had increased their total population from 75 to 76. These iconic animals desperately need our help.
Perhaps the greatest threat to orcas is the dwindling supply of wild chinook salmon, their primary food source. In a time of ecological uncertainty, it is easy to dismay, to baulk, at our personal ability to foster positive change. Optimistically however, there are some practical everyday changes that could allow annual salmon runs to flourish and, subsequently, make the waters a more promising orca habitat. First, through our consumer choices, we can reduce pollutants in our oceans and protect the delicate food web therein. Second, through political action, we can work toward an ecological-stewardship policy that provides the Southern Residents with more salmon, less tanker traffic, and thus, a chance to survive.

Step one: our everyday consumer choices matter. For instance, we can avoid purchasing products containing plastic pollutants that move up trophic levels and contaminate integral elements of the ocean’s delicate ecology. One practical change we can commit to easily: never again buying a body wash with “polyethylene” in the listed ingredients. Due to successful campaigns such as The Ocean CleanUp and 4Ocean, there is an increasing awareness of the staggering amount of plastics in our oceans. By making this small, very achievable, change, we as consumers can reduce an enormous threat to the ocean’s ecology: those tiny plastic polymer beads used to exfoliate our skin in body washes and scrubs. It’s simple: avoid buying polyethylene; instead, look for biodegradable alternatives such as sugar, salt, or even fruit seed kernels on ingredient lists. Going one step further, enough emails sent to the culprit companies, explaining this boycott’s rationale, could have a positive effect on the oceans by reducing the cosmetic industry’s habitual use of microplastics in their products.
While switching cleansers is easy, using our political voice more effectively is seems more challenging to some. However, it is an integral second step towards a safer habitat for orcas. Though anecdotal, I’ve observed far too many people neglect their democratic responsibilities. A healthy democracy requires citizens to do more than occasionally vote. Simply by writing emails to our MPs/MLAs, showing up for rallies, and spreading awareness of relevant issues through our social media networks, we can help salmon, and consequently the orcas, indirectly. Of course, it’s not only British Columbians who must become more politically active. According to Dr. Giles of the Centre of Whale Research, salmon runs from the Snake, and Columbia rivers have been “substantially reduced in recent years because of dams”; her data, corroborated by NOAA, was published in National Geographic. Further, she argues that most dams along these rivers are no longer necessary and could be removed within months if only the political will was there. Moreover, the federalised expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project has the potential to greatly increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. Not only would an oil spill prove catastrophic to the local ecology, but the noise of increased tanker traffic has been proven to disrupt orca’s ability to communicate and to hunt. Our active participation in the democratic process is an achievable goal. Perhaps the greatest threat to the Southern Residents now is our own political inaction.
It has become clear that the orcas of the Salish Sea need our help. While it would be easiest to roll over and pretend that these problems do not exist, now is not the time for such complacency and nonchalance. Simple, practical, very doable changes are within our reach: our consumer dollars can be spent more consciously, and through our political participation — even just a few sternly-worded emails a month– we can push our leaders towards better policy. We have the power to recover the once-thriving salmon stocks, and ensure Canadian oceans are made safer for J35 and the other majestic orcas of the Salish Sea. But to do so, individuals need to muster the strength to take the first few steps.



  • [1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/27/orca-mother-carries-dead-baby-washington
  • [2] http://time.com/5365111/j35-killer-whale-dead-calf/
  • [3] Weisman, Alan. The World Without Us. Harper Collins: Toronto (2007)  pp 147.
  • [4] https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2016/09/13/as-salmon-dwindle-whales-die/
  • [5] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/standard-ship-noise-may-interfere-orca-communication



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