We all watched, heartbroken, as the orca known as J35 (aka Tahlequah) carried her dead calf around the Salish Sea for more than two weeks. At the same time, ongoing efforts to save J35’s starving cousin J50 (Scarlet) have further highlighted the urgent plight of our Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs). Some of our members have recently asked us, “Is the Preservation Trust doing anything to help?”
Short answer: Yes.
The San Juan Preservation Trust is a land trust. Our mission focuses on turf, not surf—so how could we possibly be doing anything to help water-dwelling animals like orcas?
Yes, we are land stewards, but land and water in our islands are not separate realms. They are intimately connected by overlapping, interdependent webs of life.
Why are our resident orcas in such trouble? There are multiple reasons, but the top two are 1.) scarcity of Chinook salmon, which are the SRKWs’ primary food source, and 2.) high levels of toxic contaminants in the water, which have bio-accumulated at unhealthy concentrations in these top predators’ fat reserves and mothers’ milk.
SJPT is helping on both of these fronts. Here’s how:
1. By preserving intact, undeveloped shoreline—more than 45 miles of it in San Juan, Whatcom, and Skagit counties—we are helping to protect the forage fish spawning beaches and near-shore eelgrass beds where the orcas’ food chain begins, as critical habitat for juvenile Chinook and the forage fish (such as sand lance and Pacific herring) that salmon prey on.
2. By preserving watersheds, wetlands, and stream corridors, we are helping to protect the cleanliness and purity of the water that makes its way from island land into the ocean.
Your support of the San Juan Preservation Trust enables us to make a critical difference in these areas. We know that our efforts alone could not turn the tide on our beloved resident orcas’ chances of long-term survival. We are just one piece in a mosaic of nonprofit organizations, tribal agencies and other government entities that are all working on various aspects of issues affecting the SRKWs’ health.
A few years ago, the Preservation Trust commissioned the cartoonist/ecologist Jim Toomey to create a pair of animated videos about how land and sea are interconnected on our islands. (Toomey’s cartoon strip Sherman’s Lagoon is syndicated in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.) The message of these videos only grows more relevant and urgent as time goes on.