Mother Nature is unpredictable, beautiful, surprising, and it is also unforgiving.
She surprises us with the most magnificent displays of empathy, emotion and survival all around in urban and the most uninhabited places all over the world. If we are lucky we get to witness them while not even chasing the adventure.
Every day, while I walk upon this earth, I am increasingly captivated by the beauty it represents through different species of flora & fauna, and how we are all interconnected on this blue home of ours, where biodiversity is the key to survival. I appreciate every choice that I have been given, every connection I make with another person, every place that I ponder across, and every animal that I have the pleasure to get a glimpse of, especially the ones which are not just everyday animals you get to see.
February 14th 2021 have started on a bit of a downside. It’s valentines, and my valentine is on the other side of the globe. I didn’t want to keep myself hidden in the house with a tea and a book or listening to some more Plant Proof Podcast, so I have decided to start the day nice and early, doing some admin on my laptop, going for a run and then head out for few hours at Horseshoe Bay, which I have been told is a beautiful place.
It’s been a snowy couple of days so the morning 5km run wasn’t too fast, but midway, I have been blessed by a sight of a Bald Eagle that literally just flown over and sat on a tree right next to me as I was passing by. I was of course blown away by this. I’ve seen a couple of eagles already in Vancouver, but never that close to the city. This encounter has definitely put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the run.
Since I was cold and tired after the run, I have almost postponed my trip to Horseshoe bay until the following week, but just after lunch, I told myself not to be a sad lazy git, and I got my things together and went.
I didn’t really make a plan of action for the trip, I just wanted to walk about, check the place out and come back home by 6:00 pm.
When I arrived, I decided to do a little walk by the coastline. I got to a little area called Whytecliff Park and there I have noticed a little island that seemed to be accessible when the tide was low. I saw others climb up it so I thought to myself why not do the same, so I did. Got to the top, and saw that right at the end there might be a better view of the area if I just get right to the very edge of the island, so I did.
The view was pretty nice but unclear due to the slight snowfall and fog in the area. There was another couple there just chilling right by the water. Vert romantic indeed for valentines 🙂 They couldn’t be in a better place, truly.
As I stood there looking more to the east, I heard a big wushhh sound right from the west so I quickly looked around, and right there, as clear as the Pacific ocean is, there were 4 orcas AKA the Killer Whales!!!
I was just staring at them for new seconds as I couldn’t believe what it was, and then it got to me, yes I am not just seeing things, they are there. 1 very large and 3 smaller ones (later on I have found out that it was 1 male called t137a and 3 females).
If you are a long time resident of the area or living close to the coast, this might be a familiar sight during Sprint/Summer time, but not for me, as Polish/British girl, living in the Midlands of England. I’ve only just seen my first ever wild seals last year in Wales and some more in Norfolk.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing orcas, dolphins, humpback whales, and some other marine life was on my to-do list while I’m in Canada anyways. I would have never anticipated it will happen so unexpectedly and naturally as it did.
Of course, I took pictures and some videos, but since I could not stop looking at them it was hard to focus on the footage. After about 3 minutes of going up and down above the surface, orcas have dived down and never came back up. I believe they continued on their journey in ESS direction, towards the Burrard Inlet, or more out towards the Salish Sea.
I have immediately shared this incredible encounter with Instagram and Facebook friends. Very quickly SSOS (Salish Sea Orca Squad) Protection Society have seen my post and asked for more intel about the encounter, and asked if they can re-post the video on their Instagram. After a very brief conversation with a lovely someone on the other side of the SSOS Instagram DM, I got very emotional. I know that by choosing not to consume seafood and animal products I play a very small part in dealing with the overfishing issue, but it wasn’t really until that conversation that it made me feel like every little thing we do, every decision we make, actually makes a difference.
Seeing the orcas in their natural habitat, and knowing that some of the food sources (especially native salmon for the endangered specials of Orcas in the area) are being overfished or completely blocked for human consumption, actually makes me feel very upset and I don’t normally feel like this. For that reason, I believed it is my obligation to point some bits out for others that might not be as informed, and maybe someone will make a small change because most of us have the power to choose what we consume. The least that I can do is write something for the cause.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to, but most of us who have access to the internet and media have the opportunity to educate ourselves and choose a path that truly feels right to us and makes us feel like we are living our true selves. Of course, we will never be perfect, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
I also understand some people have underlining health conditions, live in poorer areas where access to food is very limited, and also not everyone wants to give up their comfort food as not everyone feels the same way about the animals and the Planed, or are just simply not aware of issues surrounding our food system. It is absolutely fine to be in a position you are in. We should always do what is right for us, and if we have the opportunity to change something, why not try it. By doing so, we are part of the solution, and we are offsetting the effects that others might have as a result of their choices. The more people try, the more people notice and are willing to give it a go too. Where we put our money and who we give our votes too are the two strongest mitigators of climate change, biodiversity and species extinction. As Sir David Attenborough said:
“The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems pose a major risk to human survival and development”, “It falls to all of us to act together, and urgently turn the Earth into a beautiful homeland for all creatures to live in harmony.”,
so helping all land and sea creatures such as orcas by putting our money in sustainable markets, will in the end help human species grow and develop for centuries to come.
If you are unfamiliar with the issues sea mammals such as orcas are facing, here are some facts and figures to give you a clearer understanding:
- Southern resident killer whales –are amongst the most endangered sea mammal species in the world, and are under the protection Marine Mammal Protection Act. These orcas feed exclusively off fish such as Chinook Salmon, which is in constant conflict with human interests and constant overfishing. Their numbers have been in decline by 20.4% between 1995 and 2001, and 10% since 2005 and in 2019 there were only 73 Southern Resident killer whales accounted for. This species is mostly seen in the Salish Sea and state of Georgia water between Washington state, Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The biggest threats to the population are noise pollution from boats and other vehicles, overfishing of their predominant food supply which is salmon, and sea chemical contamination. These are signs of weight loss in the species which makes it harder to reproduce and survive in new ecosystem humans are creating for them. The orcas that I have seen are Biggs which are wildly known transient species that are not facing extinction.
Cetaceans including whales, dolphins and porpoises, developed from land animals such as Pakicetus back in Early Eocene epoch about 50 million years ago.
The closest living land relative to a whale is a hippo.
- Overfishing – is a tremendous growing threat of extinction to a lot of marine life species. Plastic, mercury and PCB polluted fish are also effecting the immunity, health and fertility of marine animals such as orcas, so this is all-round an issue that we have hit at all fronts. 70% of the world’s fish are either fully exploited or depleted, meaning we catch more than they can reproduce. This increases nutrition-related stress levels in some sea mammals, and as a result reproduction of species slows down. Also, larger animals such as whales, orcas, dolphins, sharks, seals, walruses, sea birds like Albatross are caught in fisher nets as bycatch of standard fishing practices. Quite often these encounters end with animal drowning as a result. How ironic isn’t it?
- Plastic Pollution – remember the orca that was found on the UK shores, with a plastic bags filled stomach? Well, that was disturbing news to the nation, but this is something witnessed across the oceans. Have you heard another shocking incident where a Sperm Whale has washed up on Spanish beaches with 30kg of indigestible plastic waste in its stomach, which resulted in its death. About 100,000 marine animals are dying every year from plastic pollution, either from indigestion or entanglement in plastic waste. From that, about 56% of the planet’s whale, dolphin and porpoise species have consumed plastic in their lifetime. On average 8 million tons of plastic waste reaches and spreads across the oceans every year. It is predicted that by 2050 we will have more plastic in the sea (weight wise) then known fish species. Some of these plastics take as much as 400 years to breakdown so just imagine the mess we will be living in by then. Marine animals just don’t have a way around this anymore. We have to start cleaning the oceans and manage our waste systems better. It’s a lot to digest I know. The whales can’t digest this either, literally.
- PCB pollution – even though the production of this fluid has been stopped in 1977, PCB is still very much absorbed within the environment and animals such as fish, cattle, seals and orcas are exposed to its harming properties. As a result, Science Journal concluded their research in this matter advising that the orcas are facing a decline in population in the next 100 years due to side-effects of PCB exposure that have effected their breeding and immune functions. Other animals such as seals that orcas feed on also face breading and immune system complications.
- Warming Oceans – Global warming is now a huge threat to not only biodiversity but also humankind. If we don’t work together and try and solve the issue of our carbon footprint, the oceans’ ecosystems will change completely. Warming waters not only include a change in the biology of the seas but also the density, stratification and circulation of the currants, which will change due to increasing of freshwater containing fewer salts, entering the streams (the increase of freshwater of course comes from glaciers melting away when the sun heat is captured within the atmosphere). The rise in oceans freshwater and temperature is already affecting coral reefs through coral bleaching which you might have heard about, will affect how species survive in new changing ecosystems. Seabirds, marine fish and marine mammals such as orcas are all facing higher rates of stress and mortalities, loss of breeding grounds and mass movements in search of a new and more favourable ecosystem that will provide more food.
The seas have forever been changed and they will never return to their natural state. The pollution and warming of the oceans are already altering the ecosystem and biodiversity, but this does not mean the fight is over! We still have time and opportunity to turn things around. We can save species such as Southern Residential killer whale just my giving up your fish for a more sustainable soy version or other foods if you can do so.
Follow this link to find out more ways in which you can help prevent the endangered species of orcas from going extinct. These could be small things like eating less fish, checking sustainable fish websites (MCS example here) to see if the seafood you eat affect the sea ecosystem, buy eco-friendly cleaning and beauty products that don’t affect married life, reduce single-use plastic in your household by shopping in local food markets and supporting local farmers, learn about the issue and educate your family and maybe some friends. Also, recycle and check where your recycling goes.
3 minutes was all the time orcas have given me to absorb the elegance and beauty of their existence. 3 minutes I could be anywhere in my journey on that day, but this happened right when I got to the very end of the little island I have stumbled across. It is still overwhelming for me right now. I know that with my time in Canada I will come across more of these amazing wild nature encounters, but this first one was incredible.
Think, next time you are out and about in the elements just having a casual walk, lift your head high and go where you have never been before, and you never know, you might just have an incredible encounter that will open your heart to Mother Nature even more.
I would like to thank SSOS Protection Society for inspiring me to write this blog post. They made this issue of Southern Residential killer whale extinction sound so real and close, but with glimpse of hope when they said by not eating fish I’m already doing my part. If you would like to know other ways you can help click here for more local information.
Previous posts on eco-friendly swaps and information blogs:
- Plastic free July 2019 – reducing waste
- Plastic free July 2019 – easy beauty products swaps
- Building a healthy and sustainable food system
- Question – should we place a monetary value on ecosystem services?
Links to sources:
- Southern resident killer whales – most highly at risk marine mammal species
- Southern resident killer whales– causes of decline
- Seals population effected by PCB
- PCB pollution and Orcas population
- Southern Resident Killer Whales are Dying – size and weight drop as a result of overfishing
- Decline of Pacific salmon and speculative links to salmon farming in BC
- The Fishing Industry
- Southern Resident Killer Whales – EPA review
- From Land to Water: the Origin of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises
- The world’s plastic pollution crisis explained – National Geographic report
- Plastic in our oceans is killing marine mammals – WWF blog
- Will there be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050? – CBC report
- Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change – Nature Journal review
- Ocean warming – IUCN Issues Brief