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10 years ago, SeaDoc Society created a plan used today to keep orcas out of an oil spill

  • Written by Joe Gaydos

SeaDoc Society sent out this letter about how a plan they created 10 years ago to keep killer whales out of an oil spill is being used today. 

You probably heard that last Saturday a 49-foot commercial fishing vessel sank off San Juan Island spilling diesel fuel into the Salish Sea. Fortunately, the entire fishing crew was rescued. Unfortunately, not long after the incident, southern resident killer whales were observed swimming in-bound from Victoria, BC right towards the slick. This was a serious concern as spilled oil from the Exxon Valdez caused unprecedented mortality in both resident and transient (Bigg’s) killer whale populations in Alaska. Any oil-related injury or mortality in a population as endangered as the Southern Residents would be a disaster.

Over a decade ago, SeaDoc helped NOAA gather almost 40 managers, scientists, and oil spill experts from nearly two dozen US and Canadian agencies to create a plan to keep killer whales out of an oil spill. That plan became part of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for oil spills and was pulled out as the playbook for action last Saturday afternoon.

We were lucky on Saturday when the Southern Residents turned away just south of the oil spill and eventually headed back out to the Pacific Ocean. SeaDoc is currently part of a larger, multi-agency team prepared to deploy acoustic deterrents called oikomi pipes should killer whales return before the vessel is removed from the sea floor. While the job is not yet finished, we can’t tell you how gratifying it was to know that SeaDoc played a role in preparing for such an episode over a decade ago. Conservation is a long-game, and we are always grateful for your support, which enables SeaDoc to be forward-thinking and on-task when the need arises.

We owe a big debt of gratitude to the US Coast Guard, NOAA, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Islands Oil Spill Association, Wild Orca, The Whale Museum, and all of the other experts responding to this spill. Just as important, we want to thank you for supporting SeaDoc and helping us protect marine wildlife now and into the future.


Joe and Team SeaDoc


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