Next week I am heading back to San Juan Island for the fourth annual Superpod gathering, a week of talks, events, Q&A’s, whales, and a general celebration of all things orca. While past events have primarily focused on captive orcas, the paradigm started to shift last year to include more information on wild orca populations and the threats that they face, with a focus on the critically endangered Southern Residents. This population is (sadly) the poster example of the combined effects of captivity and increasing threats in the wild. Decimated by live captures in the 1960s and 70s, new issues prevent their recovery today, including a lack of prey, toxic contamination, habitat degradation, and vessel noise and disturbance.
The focus of this year’s Superpod will primarily be on the connection between the Southern Residents and Chinook salmon, their preferred prey, and how declining salmon populations have impacted their recovery. WDC will be presenting for the second time, this year focusing on our Don’t Let Orcas be Dammed campaign and the benefits of taking an ecosystem approach to orca conservation. Other presentations will include an update from our coalition partners in breaching the dams on the Snake River, the next steps in the fight to free Lolita, a captivity Q&A with John Hargrove, a screening of the documentary DamNation, and book signings by Hargrove, Sandra Pollard, Ken Balcomb, and Dave Neiwert – among other talks, discussions, and events (see the website for the full agenda).
With between 200 and 300 people expected this year, Superpod is turning into a major event for anyone involved in orca conservation, research, or advocacy. The inclusion of threats to wild populations widens the focus to highlight the issues for both captive and wild orcas, and may inspire some “cross-advocacy,” encouraging those working on one area of issues to become involved in new areas. People will be coming from all over the world to learn from each other and share new information and ideas, while (hopefully) surrounded by the very orcas that inspired the event.
I am excited to return to beautiful San Juan Island and check in with all the old friends from last year’s Superpod, and make new ones at this year’s festivities! In addition to presenting, I will be headed out on the water for a day with Soundwatch, the boater education program run by The Whale Museum, to observe them in action working to reduce disturbance to orcas and other marine wildlife in the Salish Sea. WDC will also be assisting with an official shore-based whale watch day – San Juan Island offers amazing vistas to settle down in a lawn chair and watch orcas from the comfort of shore – no seasickness necessary!
If you’re in the Northwestern Washington area between July 20th and 24th, come to San Juan Island and check it out! Most events are free and open to the public, and there is plenty of time during the day to explore the island and check out all the things the beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer, including the Southern Resident orcas. I personally am hoping to see the four new Southern Resident babies and would love to get a look at some of the Bigg’s orcas that have had a big presence in the Salish Sea recently!