Orcas (killer whales) are on top. They're an apex predator and sit at the top of the food chain. This means that everything in their environment, from the bottom to the top, affects their survival. Habitat conservation is really important. The whales are smart; they know what they need to do to survive. But they need our help in keeping their house clean and safe - so they have plenty of nutritious food, clean pollution-free water, and plenty of space to do their thing.
Here are some of the things you can do in your home and at work to help out.
Keep the Ocean Water Clean
What is an orca's house made of? Water. Many of the things that you can do to protect the Southern Resident Orcas environment have to do with clean water.
Only 1% of the water on earth is fresh and available. If you only had 1% of your cash available at any given time how would you spend it? Bet you wouldn’t flush it down the toilet! Paying attention to what goes down your drain makes a huge difference in how much pollution you are putting back into your local environment. Everything from your lawn fertilizer to what you flush down your toilet ends up somewhere.
Here are some tips on keeping the water you use clean, before it finds its way back into an orca's habitat.
Down the drain
Water that goes down the drain, or is flushed, doesn’t disappear. Toilets and drains are not trashcans. Disposing of trash this way can lead to sewer overflows and back-ups that pollute our local environment and waterways. Yuck! Although most wastewater is now treated, the process cannot get rid of all chemicals. Imagine borrowing a friend's sleeping bag, infesting it with bed bugs, then giving it back and saying, “Well, I got rid of most of them!” The whales would say “No thanks. You can keep it.”
In the kitchen, please don’t put grease, fats, oils or food scraps down the drain. Use an old can to collect grease and oil and dispose of it in the trash when it's full. Make compost from your food scraps. In the bathroom, if it didn’t go through you first, don’t flush it.
Many of the compounds in the medicines we use don’t get broken down in the water treatment process, ending up in the ocean food chain. Keep our orcas drug-free by disposing of your unused medications at your local pharmacy.
We don’t want our kids or pets getting into hazardous chemical products like old paint or chemical cleaners. The whales feel the same way! Keep your hazardous products safely stored and dispose of them correctly at a recycling facility that accepts them. Or better yet don’t use them at all.
Don’t wash your car in your driveway
All that soap and grime goes down the storm drain, into the ocean, killing your fishy neighbors instantly! Instead, do the neighborly thing and take your car to a car wash where the water is recycled and reused.
There's a connection between washing your car and the health of the ocean.
Photograph courtesy of San Luis Obispo County
A Southern Resident orca's survival depends on keeping the Pacific Ocean clean.
Choose natural products
Take a minute to think about the products you use at home. What happens to the chemical cleaner you use to clean your sink or toilet?
Most antibacterial cleaners, air fresheners, dishwasher detergents, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners and toilet/sink/tub/tile cleaners contain toxic ingredients that get into groundwater, and make their way to the ocean.
For the Southern Resident orcas sake, please choose your cleaning products more carefully and avoid ones that contain:
Disinfectants: Chlorine bleach, alcohol, quaternary compounds, pine oil and ethyl alcohol. These are found in a variety of household cleaners that often say ”antibacterial” or “disinfectant”. They kill the good as well as the bad.
Phosphates: These are water softeners found in dishwasher soap and laundry detergent. Once they go down the drain they can get into the waterways, causing an overgrowth of algae and aquatic weeds that suck all the oxygen out of the water, killing the fish (like salmon) and critically-important creatures at the bottom of the food chain.
Synthetic Perfumes and Fragrances: Don’t be fooled by the words fragrance and perfume! Synthetic scents are more like a chemical cocktail than the natural compound they mimic. Fragrances made from petroleum don’t degrade in the environment and get themselves into the food chain, killing guess who? All of our little friends at the bottom.
Nonyphennol Ethoxlates (NPE’s) found in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners are known to be endocrine disruptors, which mess with hormone function and potentially cause early menstruation, low sperm counts and poor reproductive health.This chemical is also thought to cause the transformation of male fish into female fish. Do you think whales like eating mutated fish? Would you?
Make your own cleaners out of stuff you probably already have.
Above information is courtesy of the David Suzuki Foundation
Practice natural yard care
Being aware of what you allow the water to carry off your yard is easy and helps keep the local ocean waters cleaner.
Locate storm drains or ditches and know where your property’s run off goes. If you MUST use harmful chemicals (which you don’t), do all that you can to keep these toxins from reaching drains and ditches.
Avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers that quickly end up in the nearest body of water, poisoning the little marine creatures that make up the bottom of the food chain. Less food on the bottom, means less food on the top.
Here are some more good tips to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. They're easy to do.
1. Please say no to plastic bags! By using fabric reusable shopping bags you can eliminate as many as 1,000 plastic bags from neighborhood landfills and the world's oceans. Image a plastic bag in a whale's stomach. It can't be good.
2. Please recycle all your aluminum cans. Recycling one can saves enough energy to run your computer for three hours. Think of all the great photos of orcas you can look at in three hours.
3. Please use your old calendars, colorful pictures, and magazines to make your own envelopes and wrapping paper. Sounds like more fun than cutting down trees.
4. Please be a part of the growing trend of buying recycled by purchasing as many items made from recycled materials as you can, like clothes, toilet paper and computer printer paper. A good rule of thumb: if you buy something to throw it away (like paper towels and toilet paper), make sure its already been thrown away.
5. Please use a reusable drink bottle and mug for water, coffee, tea, or any liquid. Most of the garbage that ends up in the ocean is plastic, much of it coming from plastic drink bottles. Would you like to swim in a pool filled with old plastic bottles? No? We bet that the whales feel the same way.
The biggest benefits of practicing the 3R's are:
1. Recycling products into new products uses fewer virgin materials, which reduces consumption of natural resources, like water. It takes about 1.85 gallons (7 liters) of water to create the plastic for one 16 oz (500 ml) bottle of water. Can anyone miss the irony in this? So if you reuse an existing water bottle, or opt for a reusable metal bottle instead, and you drink one bottle of water a day you will prevent the wasting of almost 13 gallons (49 liters) of water a week just from the plastic manufacturing process, not to mention the environmental cost savings of the new plastic bottles being transported to your neighborhood store.
2. Recycling, reducing and reusing results in less trash. Fourteen (14) billion pounds (6.35 billion kg) of garbage is dumped into the ocean every year! Not only is it disgusting and rude to trash the home of billions of creatures, it is also harmful to our whale friends and the food chain that supports them. According to the Ocean Conservancy, trash in the ocean kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles every year, from ingestion or entanglement. Recycling more results in less trash, resulting in less harm to whales and other marine animals. Simple.
3. It feels good and costs less. Arguably, the most important of the three R’s is Reduce! There are tons of things that many of us buy every day that we don’t really need. The next time you reach for a plastic bottle, or something with excessive packaging, imagine it floating down Haro Starit as the whales swim by or spinning around in the massive Pacific garbage patch. You don't want to contribute to either, do you?
The 3 R’s: Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Everyone has heard these words over, and over, and over. They are things we know we should do. But why? What difference does recycling make to whales?
Practice the 3 R’s
Grow it yourself
or buy locally
What does growing your own food have to do with orcas you ask?
Well, in the process of growing your own food you are doing several positive things for the environment that help improve the world we live in. Your world and the orcas' world . . . they're connected.
Growing your own food saves energy, protects groundwater, reduces carbon emissions and promotes good stewardship.
1. Conventional farming practices use a ton of energy. Modern farming uses more fuel than any other industry on its own, consuming 12 percent of the total energy supply in the US. This energy consumption results not just from growing and transporting the food, but also from the energy used to create synthetic fertilizers. In fact, more energy is used to produce synthetic fertilizers than to till, cultivate and harvest all the crops in the United States. Synthetic fertilizers, such as nitrogen and phosphorus (which make their way into the ocean via runoff) cause unnatural algal blooms that choke out all marine life, like young salmon, the Southern Resident Orcas favorite food. When you grow your own food, you completely opt out of this crazy business, saving energy and salmon (more for the whales), and have more fun, too.
2. Growing it yourself protects water quality. Water covers three fourths of the planet and is home to not only orcas but all creatures that make up the food web that supports both you and our local whales. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates pesticides, some that cause cancer, contaminate the groundwater in 38 US states, polluting the drinking water for more than half the country's population. Sadly, it often finds its way into the Pacific Ocean as well. Growing food at home helps keep unnecessary pollution out of the water system, out of the whales and out of you as well!
3. Growing your own food and supporting local farmers promotes good stewardship of the earth. On a small family farm important resources like fertile soil and clean water are valued. For example, as good stewards of the land many small-scale farmers grow cover crops to prevent erosion and replace nutrients. Not only does this protect groundwater, it also captures carbon emissions which help fight global warming. According to some estimates, farmers who practice conservation tillage could sequester as much as 12-14% of carbon emissions a year.
4. Buy local. Even if you can't grow your food at home, buying food that is grown near your home helps reduce the fossil fuels and resulting pollution that comes from the transport of produce and foods from all over the world (in planes and refrigerated trucks) to your supermarket. Surveys have shown that a basic meal made from imported ingredients can, in greenhouse gas emissions, cost as much as four times that of a meal made from local ingredients. But don't let local be the only thing you look for in food. Organic is important too. The idea is to pay attention to where your food comes from and how it is produced, and to think about the costs and benefits of your choices. Your choices makes a difference in helping the Southern Resident orcas survive.