Guest Column by Sharon Grace: Do Southern Resident Killer Whales Have Inherent Rights?
- Written by Sharon Grace
Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, and Langley think so. They have adopted a proclamation that describes their support for action by local, state, federal and tribal governments to secure the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas.
The proclamation states:
The rights of the Southern Resident Orcas include, but are not limited to, the right to life, autonomy, culture, free and safe passage, adequate food supply from naturally occurring sources and freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional or mental harm, including a habitat degraded by noise, pollution and contamination.
Should San Juan County be the first county to adopt a similar proclamation, since we enjoy the considerable social, cultural and economic benefits of the waters surrounding us that are called the summer home of the Southern Resident orcas?
Or should the Southern Resident orcas be treated as an economic resource, often to be exploited, without a right to exist on their own? Or put another way, do Southern Resident orcas have inherent value, or do they simply exist for our use?
Is a proclamation symbolic only? Perhaps not. If the Southern Residents’ inherent rights were recognized, would the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have approved a request from the Navy for military exercises that potentially could harm, kill, or “take” 51 Southern Residents per year?
If the Southern Residents inherent rights were recognized, would the Pacific Fishery Management Council be recommending that the periodically starving orcas’ hard-fought-for food allotment be decreased this year from 966,000 salmon to 633,000?
And for the doubters. No, the proclamation won’t give the Southern Resident orcas the ability to do things like vote, appear in court, or get a driver’s license. These are all human conventions. Just like we are not able to swim 35 miles per hour, breach high out of the water, or shut down half of our brain to sleep. These are Southern Resident conventions.
Protecting the orcas is not a zero sum game. Protecting their environment protects our environment. Adopting the proclamation can be a win for all.
If you want San Juan County to be the first county to proclaim that Southern Resident orcas have inherent rights, please contact the San Juan County council members and let them know. Cindy Wolf—firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-370-7477, Christine Minney— email@example.com or 360-370-7478, Jane Fuller— firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-378-2898.