Viewpoint: Orca fight must continue

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by JENNIFER ABBOTT

A few years ago, I joined a group of people wanting to create a beautiful spectacle to celebrate the southern resident orca pod who inhabit our Salish Sea, and Orca Soundings was born.

As activists, artists and concerned citizens, we were tired of what seemed like unending bad news and wanted instead to call attention to the beauty, grace and intelligence of these giant kin who inhabit the sea we also call home. And so we created 78 orca sculptures; representing the then 78 living southern resident killer whales. Others were far more involved than me as I was deep in production on a film. Still, I was matched with the orca named Princess Angeline and my twin daughters with her daughter Kiki.

But now, Princess Angeline is presumed dead. The cause of death is starvation due to growing marine traffic, pollution and a diminishment of the chinook salmon she relied on. Kiki is still alive, though was observed showing signs of starvation. Her L-pod hasn’t appeared in the Salish Sea this summer and generally there’s a scarcity of southern resident sightings.

Princess Angeline was a matriarch, whose offspring would have travelled with her for decades to come within a social network most humans long for but never find. Her loss is a cultural, social, familial and educational loss for her pod and her species. But her loss is also our loss. Princess Angeline’s namesake was the daughter of Chief Seattle who lived from 1820 to 1896. I can only imagine the life she lived looking at a wrinkled old image of her taken later in her life. I do know she was buried in a coffin the shape of a canoe.

A decade ago, in some strange way, I might have felt Princess Angeline’s death was in part my failure. Could I have done more? But I’ve woken up to how our economic system offloads responsibility for its destruction onto individuals while dismissing the intrinsic value of life and the planet. I’ll keep fighting of course. But I understand my real power comes in joining with others to defeat the life-destroying dimensions of 21st-century extractive hyper-capitalism. That’s the system that created the tar sands and continues to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. And it’s too powerful to take on except in large numbers.

It won’t take an oil spill in the Salish Sea to decimate more orcas. The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion intended to transport bitumen from the tar sands to the West Coast will increase tanker traffic and disrupt the southern residents ability to use sonar to communicate and forage for food. According to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, “the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion sanctions the probable extinction of southern resident killer whales.” And that’s why I’ve no doubt the two Princess Angelines would want us to join forces against the system that would allow that to happen.

When we do, we might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them out on the Salish Sea fighting right alongside us, with one in a canoe.

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