Thursday, July 1, 2010

Orca Awareness Month; Why It Matters to Me

by Uko Gorter - July 1, 2010

It is my hope that with Governor’s Christine Gregoire’s proclamation of June as Orca Awareness Month in Washington State, more attention is given to the serious issues surrounding our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. (Read the proclamation)

Since I was a young boy, growing up in my native Holland, I have been fascinated with cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises).  Now that I live in the Seattle area, that love for whales has developed into my current work as a natural history and scientific illustrator specializing in marine mammals.  It also led me to become involved with whale and dolphin conservation through the American Cetacean Society, and as such function as the president of the Puget Sound Chapter of American Cetacean Society’s Puget Sound Chapter.


Killer whales, better known as orca, are apex predators and tremendously important to the marine ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest.  Besides their biological significance, they also have an intrinsic value to our community at large.  Revered by coastal indigenous tribes through their culture and art, they are now the main focus of a well-established whale watch community. Living long complex social lives, killer whales speak to everyone’s imagination and serve as the best ambassador for our marine environment.

These animals inspire connections with people. They’ve prompted online hydrophones so people can listen for their distinctive vocalizations, and a sighting network to alert followers to their whereabouts.  And thanks to 30 years of photo surveys, each of these 90 or so whales is individually identifiable and named allowing scientists and others to see the family relationships among members of this community.

Chinook, or King salmon, are the prey of choice for our resident orca pods.  However, Chinook salmon itself is endangered, making the case for sweeping recovery measures that help both species.

Our Southern Resident killer whales face a number of challenges.  Becoming more aware of them is a good first step. But let’s keep in mind that they won’t recover – they will actually go extinct – if we don’t take aggressive action to save them.

In order to ensure an abundant supply of chinook salmon for the future of these orcas, the federal government needs to reform its salmon policies in the Columbia and Snake River Basin, and use the best available science to provide long term recovery of endangered salmon stocks. We need real leadership on the part of our Washington Senators to pull all stakeholders together and create solutions for salmon, orcas and people.

For more information on Southern Resident Killer Whales:
Read about the killer whale’s primary food and/or Read the federal SRKW Recovery Plan           

Uko Gorter at

A sample of Uko’s work:

More here:

To see the beautiful artwork of Coastal Salish Artist Joe Jack, please visit

On the site you can also read the ancient legend of the Cowichan Thunderbird and Orca.  This story figures deeply into the culture of coastal Salish indigenous people. 

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