I have many, many feelings about the current situation with ailing killer whale J50. I’m not sure I want to try to articulate them all here (I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel), but some things certainly stick out to me:
- There is a massive amount of disconnect and distrust of NOAA biologists by the public. This is very clear from reading comments on their Facebook page, and frankly, I’m not sure if it’s really warranted at the levels I’m observing.
- Many people who are giving NOAA suggestions have no experience with killer whale biology/behavior, veterinary medicine, or the process of marine mammal rehabilitation. I feel NOAA is wasting valuable time in having a 2-day public discussion forum. At this point, every hour matters, and I don’t know if J50 will even make it to tomorrow let alone this weekend.
- It’s painfully obvious people are having a reactionary response to the word “capture” and are not thinking beyond that. I can tell many people either have not read NOAA’s proposals or are too upset by the idea of human care being an option to even consider what NOAA is suggesting, which is 1) J50 will not be separated from her family if she is with them (she would only be captured if she is left behind or strands in order to limit any effect on other J pod whales) and 2) if she is captured, and it is determined she cannot be treated, she will be released to live out whatever is left of her life with her family.
- People are getting upset about the possibility of SeaWorld and other aquariums being involved. I can understand this, but ultimately, I don’t believe anybody from these institutions is secretly hatching a plan to take her and keep her captive forever. NOAA biologists have explicitly stated that permanent human care is absolutely not part of their objective, which is to treat J50 while minimizing impact to other whales and ensure she remains a productive member of J pod. In the end, NOAA has the ultimate authority (in US waters) and determines which marine mammals are suitable for release and which ones will be kept in captivity permantly.
- Regardless of what happens, NOAA cannot please the public. If they do not intervene any further, people will be upset they did not try everything and everything to help. If they do intervene in a more invasive way, such as capture, and J50 dies, even if it is from something entirely unrelated to invasive measures, people will tell NOAA they killed her. There’s no way to win here, at least not in the court of public opinion.
- I do wish people would understand how multifaceted the issues facing the southern residents are, and that it’s not as simple as taking down some dams. Prey availablity is the root problem, but comprehensive salmon restoration is often complicated, difficult, and can take a long time. Ideally, work on this should have been done 15-20 years ago, but unfortunately we now have to scramble at the last moment.