Lead image: Nudibranchs are a group of soft-bodied, marine gastropod molluscs which shed their shells after their larval stage. They are noted for their often extraordinary colours and striking forms.
We were first introduced to the amazing team at SeaDoc Society through a friend of ours, Dr. Bert Webber. Dr. Webber, who coined the name "Salish Sea" some 20 years ago, has always been passionate about the Salish Sea and supports organizations like SeaDoc, on both sides of the border, that are dedicated to protecting this very unique ecosystem.
Thanks to Bert, and also to the wonderful folks at the Salish Sea Institute at Western Washington University, of which Dave is an advisory board member, we took a trip to Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands on the USA side of the Salish Sea, and had the honour of meeting Joe Gaydos and Markus Naugle of SeaDoc Society. Our friends, Mike McGettigan, founder of SeaWatch, an organization dedicated to saving the Sea of Cortez, with his wife Sherry, drove up from their Portland home to join us.
What a delight it was to meet Joe Gaydos and his team at SeaDoc. The conversation was dynamic, with Joe telling us about their mission and research in the Salish Sea and Mike recounting stories about his years of monitoring and patrolling the Sea of Cortez.
SeaDoc Society team members; L to R: Mira Lutz, Markus Naugle, Joe Gaydos, Justin Cox, Erica Nilson
Over the course of our visit, we quickly understood that the hard work, intelligence and dedication of these sea stewards was absolutely vital, and unsurpassed, in the urgent fight to save the Salish Sea and the animals that live there.
Among many other priorities, wildlife veterinarian Joe Gaydos and SeaDoc Society are at the frontline of the efforts to save the iconic Southern Resident Killer Whale from imminent extinction. Long before the unprecedented story of Tahlequah, J35, carrying her dead calf for 17 days, brought world-wide attention to the urgent plight of the Southern Residents, SeaDoc has been using science to monitor and record the health and unique behaviour of these mammals.
For SeaDoc Society, and any other organization that truly cares to make a difference in the world, science and benevolence go hand in hand. In his blog, Is Southern Resident J35 Really Mourning?, Gaydos writes:
“Calling J35's behaviour 'mourning' reminds us that these animals think and feel, just as we do. Losing a newborn leaves a hole in one's heart whether you’re a human or an orca. The only difference is that while we seem to be the masters of our own destiny, the long-term survival of the Southern Residents lies in our hands.”
In 2016, Gaydos initiated a unified health records system for the individual J Pod orcas that would allow researchers to compare birth records against long-term records collected by other researchers, like toxin levels, water temperature, ship noise and many others, potentially isolating the cause. Ensuring critical research to look at contaminants in salmon and how they affect the killer whales that eat them, SeaDoc has also conducted research examining the role of disease in the declining killer whale population.
Since 2002, SeaDoc has tracked the overall number of wildlife species that are listed as threatened or endangered in the Salish Sea; from 2008 to 2011, that number nearly doubled, from 64 to 113.
"While performing world-class research is of paramount importance, ensuring that our findings effect positive change is just as vital. We think of ourselves as arbiters of truth in matters of ocean health, and it's a role we take seriously."
Please find out more about the SeaDoc Society and give your support to their incredible efforts.
Watch their new video series Salish Sea Wild on YouTube:
20-year-old Tahleqhua carried her dead calf for 17 days and over 1,000 miles
Very early in January, 2019, a calf was born to the L-Pod of the SRKW, the first live birth in over three years. Along with SeaDoc Society, the many First Nations, political leaders, organizations and individuals all working together as one, in cooperation with our relatives the Orcas, we CAN save the Salish Sea.
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