A unique salmon enhancement project on the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been launched to help increase supplies of large adult Chinook salmon in the Juan De Fuca Strait to help feed hungry southern resident killer whales. More than 200,000 healthy Chinook salmon smolts are currently being held in a temporary enclosure in the Sooke basin and are due for release soon. The fish are tagged, this will allow scientists to gather important data such as salmon survival rates when the fish return to the area in three years as large adult salmon, and will be present in the Juan de Fuca strait at a time when the killer whales are looking for preferred prey species. The “Feeding our Endangered Orcas” initiative, approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is locally funded and organizers say they hope to expand the number of salmon to one million within three years.
Marine Connections’ Margaux Dodds comments “This initiative is a very welcome and worthy undertaking by the community. In 2-3 years these fish will have grown to a size suitable for consumption by the orcas, hopefully this will also mean a rise in salmon stocks year on year. This will offer at least some support for their dietary requirements, however in the short-term this orca population still faces food shortage which continues to be a concern. The fact that this co-operative are willing to bear the high cost to launch this project to aid orca survival reflects the depth of feeling for this whale population and desire to protect their future.”
The number of orca whales in B.C. waters has declined in recent years. In 2016, seven southern resident killer whales died bringing the endangered population to 78.