By Mathew Roland
People flocked to Boulevard Park by land and by sea on Sunday, June 25, to bring awareness to the declining number of southern resident killer whales in the Puget Sound and advocate for clean energy as part of Washington’s Orca Month.
The event, called Two if by Land, One if by Sea, was organized by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. Kayakers, along with people on the shore, gathered at the waterfront park waving banners that read, “Water is Life,” “Oil and Orca Do Not Mix” and “Protect the Salish Sea.”
A main focus of the event was protesting the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada. Members of the Lummi Nation against the pipeline expansion were present on Sunday, accompanied by other organizations such as the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Friends of the San Juans and the Washington Environmental Council.
Chief Stateethlum and tribe member Qwe’shi’mut from the Lummi tribe view the Trans Mountain pipeline as a hazard to their nation's way of life and a threat to sacred wildlife.
“Things like this are going to hurt our future, our relatives. It’s going to hurt our ancestors and our future youth,” Stateethlum said.
“The pipeline is a direct threat to our very existence as a people.”
Qwe’shi’mut, Lummi Nation tribe member
Lummi traditions revere the orca whales. They are known as the wolves of the sea because they teach to stay close to one another and fight for what is needed in life, Qwe’shi’mut’ said.
“The pipeline is a direct threat to our very existence as a people,” Qwe’shi’mut said.
Chris Wilke, executive director at Puget Sound Alliance, described how an oil spill from a pipeline could be devastating for the already threatened whale population. This risk increases with higher levels of oil tanker traffic.
The expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline would cause a 40 percent increase in shipping overall when all the proposed port expansions in the Salish Sea are combined, Wilke said. It would also be a 1,700 percent increase in oil tanker traffic, he said.
The southern resident killer whale population has gone up and down from 1974 to 2015, with numbers as high as 98 and as low as 70, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Of this population, 78 whales currently remain, Wilke said. The population might not recover unless the salmon runs they rely on are restored. A large oil spill could be the nail in the coffin for resident killer whales, Wilke said.
The event displayed 27 wooden orca fins to represent the most recent losses from the resident orca pod. Each of the fins were labeled with the orcas pod number and name, and some of the fins had “RIP” painted on them.
Oil disasters have occurred before and caused monumental damage to wildlife and the environment, said Robert Earl, a commercial fisherman and graduate of Western’s Huxley College of the Environment with a degree in marine and terrestrial ecosystems analysis.
Earl was a commercial fisherman in 1989 at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped approximately 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. The environmental degradation of an oil spill in the Salish Sea would be similarly devastating due to the geography of the islands, tides and currents, he said.
“We need more people who are thinking green,” Earl said. “We’ve seen time and again the power of people getting together in protest and organizing what can be done to defeat things that are not good for the environment.”
Along with environmental risks, the pipeline would also create very few domestic jobs, Wilke said.
“Wind and solar already employ more people in the U.S. than all the incumbent energy sources combined so coal, oil and natural gas,” Wilke said. “We should evaluate these fossil fuel proposals very carefully and realize it’s OK to say no to ones that are foolish that provide no benefit to 99 percent of the population.”
The $7.4 billion Kinder Morgan pipeline would increase the quantity of transported oil throughout the Salish Sea from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day, according to Sightline Institute.
This expansion would increase the number of oil tankers in the Salish Sea from five per month to 34 per month.
According to the Kinder Morgan website, pipelines are the safest and most efficient way of transporting crude oil and petroleum products to the market. A pipeline safety tracker on the nonprofit ProPublica’s website cites 7,763 incidents from 1986 to 2012.
“The oil needs to stay in the ground where it belongs,” Earl said.