Inslee orders all restaurants, bars shut down because of coronavirus

Tyler Baldwin mops the floor after closing for the night at the Taproom at Pike Place, Sunday, March 15, 2020 where he works as a bartender in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — All bars, entertainment and recreational facilities have been ordered by the state to close across Washington and restaurants will be limited to take-out or delivery orders only, Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday night.

The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning, an Inslee spokesperson said, though King County has chosen to enact its ban immediately.

Gov. Inslee Press Conf. on COVID-19 Update

“Given the explosion of COVID-19 in our state and globally, I will sign a statewide emergency proclamation tomorrow to temporarily shut down restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities,” Inslee said in a press release announcing the new order. “Restaurants will be allowed to provide take-out and delivery services but no in-person dining will be permitted. The ban will not apply to grocery stores and pharmacies. Other retail outlets will have reduced occupancy.”

Retail outlets include gas stations, banks, hardware, stores and shopping centers.

Governor Jay Inslee


King County will shut down these establishments immediately. As the largest population center and current epicenter of this outbreak, they must act with even greater urgency. I applaud @kcexec’s decision.

We will hold a joint press conference with more details tomorrow. 5/6

Governor Jay Inslee


We’re in this together, Washington. How each of us responds matters.

And I know we’re up for the challenge.

My full statement: 

View image on Twitter
1,986 people are talking about this

The closure is in effect until March 31 for now.

“Hopefully it’s just a couple weeks, but we don’t know,” said Grace Jurado, General Manager of Red Mill Burgers.

Red Mill Burgers was already planning to make changes to its restaurant operations before Inslee’s announcement Sunday night. The Red Mill Burgers Totem House location in Ballard is now temporarily closed. Starting Tuesday, the locations in Phinney Ridge and Interbay will have limited hours and only take to-go orders without cash, Jurado said.

“We were trying to get ahead of the curve on it, but I’m happy that right now – it’s allowing us to at least stay open for to-go orders,” she told KOMO News on Sunday night.

Inslee orders all restaurants, bars shut down in state in wake of coronavirus
Inslee orders all restaurants, bars shut down in state in wake of coronavirus

Inslee also increased a ban on gatherings over 250 people down to a ban of over 50 people, and all gatherings under 50 people are prohibited unless previously announced criteria for public health and social distancing are met.

“We are at a critical moment in this crisis,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We are leaving the phase of COVID-19 outbreaks in concentrated areas of the county, and entering the phase of potentially rapid and widespread infection.”

He suggests just assume the new coronavirus is already widespread.

“It is time, right now, for people to assume that they and everyone they meet is infected, to avoid any unnecessary interactions that might lead to further infection, and to wait and monitor to see if they have in fact been infected so that they can isolate and recover without presenting a risk to others,” Constantine said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says a recent study by the Institute for Disease Modeling found that if the Puget Sound region didn’t take any mitigating steps for the virus, that by early April the Puget Sound region could have as many as 25,000 cases of COVID-19, and 400 deaths. But with strong to extreme social distancing efforts, we can limit future infections to between 1,700 and 4,800 in the region with 30-100 deaths, depending on their effectiveness, the study found.

“The study underscored the importance of social distancing in saving lives, preventing the further spread of the virus, and relieving pressure on the health care system and first responders,” Durkan said.

‘Your actions could kill someone’

The announcement comes hours after Inslee had stern words Sunday for those who are ignoring the state mandates to avoid large crowds and practice strong social distancing as the new coronavirus continues to spread:

“Your actions could kill someone. Stop it.”

Governor Jay Inslee


Most Washingtonians are helping slow COVID-19’s spread by practicing strong social distancing.

To those of you that can be but are choosing not to: Your actions could kill someone.

Stop it.

10.4K people are talking about this

Inslee’s tweet praised most Washingtonians for adhering to the recommendations, designed to slow the widening outbreak. Two more deaths were announced Sunday afternoon in King County, bringing the county’s total to 37 and the statewide total to 42 with 769 total cases.

The deaths include a woman in her 60s who died at Franciscan Medical on March 14 and a woman in her 70s who died on March 12. Both were residents of Life Care Center of Kirkland.

Of the 37 deaths reported in King County, 29 are associated with Life Care. As of Saturday, 47 staff members tested positive for coronavirus, 24 tested negative, one test came back inconclusive, and five tests are still pending. Eighteen additional employees will be tested Saturday.

So far, more than 9,000 people who tested for coronavirus came back with negative results.

“Although the laboratory test is becoming more broadly available, there are limitations in the health care industry’s capacity to obtain samples from people as rapidly as we would like,” Public Health Seattle & King County wrote in a press release. “In addition, people do not always need to be tested for clinical care purposes since there is currently no medication to treat COVID-19.”

EvergreenHealth Hospital ER Doctor hospitalized with coronavirus

An emergency room doctor with EvergreenHealth hospital, which is treating several COVID-19 cases, has been hospitalized himself due to the coronavirus infection, hospital officials and the American College of Emergency Officials said Sunday.

Hospital officials say the doctor is in critical but stable condition. His name is not being released due health privacy laws.

“I am deeply saddened by this news, but not surprised,” ACEP President Dr. William Jaquis said in a statement. “As emergency physicians, we know the risks of our calling. We stand united with our colleagues and our thoughts and prayers for a full and speedy recovery are with each of them and their families.”

Jaquis says it’s unclear whether the doctor picked up the virus at the hospital or via community spread.

Don’t overstock on supplies

Inslee also praised most state residents for buying supplies responsibly but noted that those that are overbuying are “putting their friends and neighbors at risk.”

“Grocers say consumer overstocking – not a disrupted supply chain — is the main reason their store shelves are empty of many supplies and food items, especially hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, toilet paper, and plastic gloves,” according to a Department of Health Press Release.

Officials say they want to assure everyone once shoppers return to the normal pace of purchases there will be an adequate supply. They added that water supplies are fine and there is no need to overstock bottled water.

“These are very difficult decisions, but hours count here and very strong measures are necessary to slow the spread of the virus,” Inslee said. “I know there will be significant economic impacts to all our communities and we are looking at steps to help address those challenges.”

CDC: Avoid gatherings over 50 for 8 weeks

Officials across the country curtailed many elements of American life to fight the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday, with health officials recommending that groups of 50 or more don’t get together and a government expert saying a 14-day national shutdown may be needed.

Governors were closing restaurants, bars, and schools as the nation sank deeper into chaos over the crisis. Travelers returning home from overseas trips were stuck in line for hours at major airports for screenings, causing them to be crammed into just the kind of crowded spaces that public health officials have been urging people to avoid.

As Americans struggled to come to terms with how to change their daily habits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a dramatic recommendation: Because large events can fuel the spread of the disease, it said gatherings of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed throughout the country for the next eight weeks. It added that, at any event, proper precautions should be taken, including making sure people are washing their hands and not getting too close.

But in a sign of the difficulty of striking the right balance, the statement from the CDC also said the recommendation does not apply to “the day to day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.”

Blood supply in jeopardy of collapse

Health officials say that the local blood supply is in jeopardy of collapsing with multiple blood drives closing and more than 2,500 donations lost amid coronavirus concerns.

“New donors are needed now to step-up and save a life, and for donors to make this a generous and consistent habit,” Public Health Seattle & King County said. “All types of blood are needed for cancer treatment, trauma cases and many other situations. The process only takes an hour and actual donation time is about ten minutes.”

“Donating blood is a safe activity, and there is no risk of contracting coronavirus from the blood donation process,” health officials added.

Inslee said the coronavirus outbreak has now spread to 15 counties in Washington state, where 70% of the state’s population lives.

First vaccine trial begins in Seattle Monday

A clinical trial evaluating a vaccine designed to protect against the new coronavirus will begin Monday in Seattle, according to a government official.

The first participant in the trial will receive the experimental vaccine on Monday, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the trial has not been publicly announced yet. The National Institutes of Health is funding the trial, which is taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, the official said.

Public health officials say it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.

Starbucks implements “To-Go” model in its stores

Starbucks is implementing a “to go” model for at least two weeks to encourage social distancing and help contain the spread of coronavirus.

The policy will apply to all company-owned stores in the U.S. and Canada. The Seattle-based coffee giant will close in high-social gathering locations, including malls and university campuses. Communities with high clusters of COVID-19 cases will also temporarily close or have reduced operating hours.

Other changes include pausing all use of seating, including both in the café and patio areas. Customers may still walk up and order at the counter, through the “order ahead” feature in the Starbucks app or drive-through.

Pike Place Market member tests positive for COVID-19

A member of the Pike Place Market community has tested positive for new coronavirus, according to a Market spokesperson.

“The individual spent time in a very specific area of the Market and that area has been closed and is undergoing a deep cleaning,” says spokesperson Madison Bristol. “We are following the cleaning regimen advised by public health officials.”

Market officials have notified everyone at the market who came in contact with the person so they can evaluate their exposure risk and any need to self-quarantine, Bristol said.

“Currently, the risk to the public is low to Market visitors, according to county officials,” Bristol said, adding that the Market remains open.

Sounders support staff member tests positive for COVID-19

Seattle Sounders FC announced Sunday that the club has learned a member of the organization’s support staff has been confirmed to have COVID-19.

So far it’s the only known case in the organization and the person is in an “appropriate isolation protocol,” according to the team.

The person did work the Sounders’ March 7 match against Columbus but did not interact with the general public. His symptoms didn’t surface until 4 days after the match and experts don’t believe he has posed a risk to the general public, team members or visiting team members.

Seattle food truck struggles to stay open as virus forces customers to work from home

Veronica Weaver is among many local food truck operators feeling the pinch of the coronavirus.

“We go from working five days a week to maybe working one to two days or maybe none at all,” she said.

That’s because the coronavirus outbreak is causing people to work at home, meaning many offices are empty.

“I go to a lot of the big corporations like Microsoft and Expedia and now those locations are shut down to us,” Weaver said.

Less business means the trucks stay parked and charging while Weaver continues to lose money.

“We’re down 80 to 90% of our revenue during this time,” she said.

Coronavirus cases rise in Washington, prompting new rules for nursing homes: “If you do the math, it gets very disturbing”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to ban gatherings of more than 250 people in most of the Seattle metro area, while the state braces for potentially tens of thousands of more cases of coronavirus. Inslee also outlined new rules for nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Public health officials said at least 10 long-term care facilities in the Seattle area have reported cases. Patients have died at three of those facilities. Of the 32 people who’ve died from coronavirus in the U.S., 20 of them are linked to the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington.

Bridget Parkhill’s mother recently tested positive for coronavirus at the Life Care Center. She and her sister now visit by standing outside her window.

“It wasn’t a shock that she was positive,” Parkhill told CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti. “It should have been a priority to get everybody tested so they could get all the negative people out of here before they turned positive.”

But a shortage of tests meant only the critically ill were prioritized.

Another long-term care facility that has reported coronavirus cases, the Josephine Caring Community, is in lockdown, CEO Terry Robertson said.

“No visitors, no consultants and no families. And I can tell you that’s incredibly tough,” he said.

In Northern California, officials confirmed Tuesday that an assisted living resident in their 90s died after getting the virus. And a recent study examining coronavirus cases in China found that in people over 80 years old, the death rate was nearly 15%.

In Seattle’s King County, 74 more cases were announced Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to more than 260.

“If you do the math, it gets very disturbing,” Inslee said.

The new nursing home rules outlined by the governor include limiting patients to one visitor per day and screening employees and volunteers for symptoms at the start of their shift.

“The number of people who are infected in an epidemic like this will double in the state of Washington unless we take some real action here,” he said.

Industry groups have issued recommendations for those whose family members live in nursing homes. They said you should ask your loved one’s facility about its plans for cleaning and staffing, keep in touch remotely for now, and monitor instead of move. Leaving the facility could put the elderly at much higher risk, officials said.

1 dead from coron avirus in King County, health officials confirm

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. (File photo)

SEATTLE — One person has died from the coronavirus in King County, the Washington state Department of Health said Saturday in a media advisory.

No other details were given about the death as of Saturday morning.

Officials plan to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. with more details.

The Department of Health announced Friday evening two presumably new cases of coronavirus, including a school-aged student in Snohomish County.

The department said the results from the individuals’ tests came back “preemptively positive,” but are pending official confirmation from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

A student from Jackson High School in Mill Creek with no travel history is one of the people infected with the COVID-19 virus. The student started feeling ill Monday with body aches, chills and a headache, the department said. Health officials said the student returned to school when he started feeling better, before results Friday revealed the child was sick with coronavirus.

Everett Public Schools said in a tweet Friday evening Jackson High School will be closed March 2 for three days to disinfect the campus.

The other presumed positive coronavirus test was a woman in her 50s from King County. Health officials said the woman traveled to Daegu, South Korea Feb. 7-23 and returned to Seattle to work Monday before she felt symptoms Tuesday. She reported her symptoms to health officials Wednesday and was tested for the virus Thursday.

Her results came back positive Friday.

Health officials said she is improving without any complications. The woman has not been in public since her symptoms started, the department said, and her husband is under home quarantine.

This story is breaking. More information will be updated when it becomes available.

Commentary: WDFW’s deadly experiment

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is conducting an experiment that threatens not only domestic animals and livestock, but may increase risk to rural residents. Because no ethical authority would approve its experimental design, WDFW relies on untested anecdotal methods to further its experiment.

For more than 30 years, some researchers hypothesized that hunting of cougars —mountain lions — leads to increased livestock conflicts. With advanced research technologies enabling tracking the behavior of America’s lion, a picture of social organization emerged showing resident cats had well-defined territories with little or no overlap among resident males, but with males encompassing multiple female territories.

When a territory becomes vacant, several transient cats will move in to contest and take over the area. When adjoining areas lose resident cats, the resulting “social chaos” by the arrival of typically less-experienced cats may lead to an apparent increase in the cougar numbers and ensuing conflicts as those cats may take chickens, goats or pets for an easy meal.

Research in Washington, as in other states and British Columbia, shows a high correlation between cougar mortalities and verified conflicts. Studies suggest if adult cat deaths remained below about 14% of the adult cougar numbers in an area, cougar society remained stable, with minimal conflicts. Initially, WDFW decided to adopt a hunting paradigm that would maintain cougar social stability.

Rather than conservatively limiting harvest to 10% of the adult cats in a Game Management Unit (GMU) as recommended by WDFW biologists at the 10th Mountain Lion Workshop, administrators elected to set the harvest guidelines to target 16%, including juvenile cats even though juveniles and kittens suffer high natural mortalities of about 50% per year. WDFW created an unrestricted season, September through December, with no GMU limits on cougars killed.

In addition, WDFW extended cougar hunting season to seven months, Sept. 1 to April 30. Last season WDFW recorded a record 379 cougars killed. At the halfway point of this accounting year, Washington has 220 recorded cougar mortalities.

Initiative 655, passed by 63% of statewide voters in 1996, banned the use of hounds to hunt cougars, lynx, bobcats and bears. Since, some have argued that the cougar population has exploded. WDFW does not publicly dispel that conjecture, even though cougar mortalities are higher now than during any previous decades, the result of increasing cougar-tag sales more than 40-fold.

“Conventional wisdom,” advocated by some, and apparently by WDFW, would tell us that if we kill more cougars, we’ll have fewer problems. Several recent investigations of up to three decades of data show that hunting cougars correlates with increasing conflicts.

However, correlation does not imply causation. The only way that research biologists can show a causal link is to design a medical-style experiment with controls. What community would volunteer to be part of an experiment to kill more cats to test for an expected increase in conflicts? WDFW’s current policy surreptitiously has been doing just that!

In several eastern regions, WDFW allows harvest above management guidelines, and aggressively kills cougars when responding to complaints. WDFW is also allowing county sheriffs to call out hounds to kill cougars when someone calls in a cougar sighting.

The results are clear: more complaints. Will the complaints change when there is a real emergency, but law enforcement is unavailable because officers are out chasing a cat someone saw?

In 2011, while biologists were publishing results from millions of dollars of research, WDFW removed the goal “Promote development and responsible use of sound, objective science to inform decision-making” from its mission and goals statement. WDFW chooses to “manage” cougars with conventional wisdom and political expediency rather than best consensus science. The outcome is increasing complaints from residents in over-hunted areas, and record deaths in our cougar population.

Now, WDFW plans to increase cougar harvest to respond to complaints in the over-hunted regions. Instead of helping people coexist with cougars, WDFW increases turmoil by killing cougars.

Enough, WDFW! Use the science taxpayers paid for; quit aggravating conflicts!

Bob McCoy is an advocate for science and apex species. For the past decade he has volunteered for the Mountain Lion Foundation, and was recently elected to chair the board of directors. He lives in Sammamish and has lived in Washington state since 1962 other than seven years he served in the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator.

Snohomish County man with Wuhan coronavirus is being treated largely by a robot

Data pix.

43 people being monitored for possible exposure to coronavirus


EVERETT — The first person diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus in the United States is being treated by a few medical workers and a robot.

The robot, equipped with a stethoscope, is helping doctors take the man’s vitals and communicate with him through a large screen, said Dr. George Diaz, chief of the infectious disease division at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.

Image of the robot caring for a Snohomish County man with coronavirus (CNN photo)


The man, who is in his 30s, was diagnosed with the virus on Monday. He initially went to an urgent care clinic on January 19 and told the staff that he was concerned about possibly having symptoms of the novel coronavirus because he recently traveled to Wuhan, China, Diaz said.

He arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 15, before any health screenings began at US airports, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

The Snohomish County resident was in stable condition Thursday and remains in isolation, Diaz said.

Washington state health officials confirmed Thursday that they have reached out to 43 people considered “close contacts” of the 30-year-old man, who identified the people he had interacted with since returning from Wuhan, China. Those contacts will be called daily and actively monitored for signs of any illness.

He arrived at the hospital in a special isolated gurney called an ISOPOD and has been treated in a two-bed isolated area away from busy sections of the hospital, the doctor said.

The gurney that brought in the Snohomish County man who has Wuhan coronavirus (CNN photo)

“The nursing staff in the room move the robot around so we can see the patient in the screen, talk to him,” Diaz said, adding the use of the robot minimizes exposure of medical staff to the infected man.

It’s unclear when the patient will be released because the CDC, which is set to provide the discharge details, has recommended additional testing.

“They’re looking for ongoing presence of the virus,” Diaz told CNN on Thursday. “They’re looking to see when the patient is no longer contagious.”

About two weeks ago, the hospital tested its protocol for treating patients with highly contagious diseases such as MERS and Ebola. The hospital made changes after the Ebola outbreak.

“That’s why we set up protocols that will allow us to treat patients with infectious diseases in a way that we can isolate them without spreading the virus to anyone,” Diaz told CNN en Español.

Washington state health officials confirmed Thursday they have been reaching out to 43 people considered to be “close contacts” of the patient.

The department defined “close contacts” as anyone who interacted with the patient and came within 3 to 6 feet of the infected person, for a prolonged period of time while infectious or had direct contact with his secretions.

The virus has killed at least 25 people in China, seven of whom did not have preexisting conditions before they contracted the illness, and sickened more than 800, as far afield as the US.

The true extent of the Wuhan coronavirus is unclear, however, and official figures may be an underestimation as mild symptoms and delayed onset mean cases are likely to have been undetected, a team of scientists have said.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency committee has said it’s too early to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency.

Elk Raise Tensions Between Tribes And Farmers In Washington’s Skagit Valley

Elk graze in Skagit Valley, an area north of Seattle, Wash., populated for centuries by Native Americans and, more recently, by farmers.

Megan Farmer/KUOW

Just after sunrise, elk are grazing in a misty field in Washington’s Skagit Valley, an hour and a half north of Seattle.

“It looks like there are roughly 40 animals there,” says Scott Schuyler, a member of northwest Washington’s Upper Skagit Tribe.

These elk are at the center of a conflict that’s unfolding between Native Americans and farmers in northwest Washington. After being nearly wiped out in the late 1800s, the animals are making a comeback in Skagit Valley. Local tribes are thrilled, but the agricultural industry is not.

Schuyler grew up in the suburbs south of Seattle, but, when a court decision reaffirmed his tribe’s right to hunt and fish in the Skagit Valley, his family moved back to their ancestral home.

Schuyler remembers hunting his first elk in 1987, when he was 24 years old.

“I was really proud at the time,” he says. “It’s our tradition, when you get your first animal, you give to your community; you give to your elders. And so I gave most of the animal away.”

But, Schuyler says, some of the Skagit Valley’s farmers and ranchers were not happy that tribal members were moving back, claiming their rights.

Scott Schuyler is a member of the Upper Skagit tribe. He remembers hunting his first elk in 1987, when he was 24 years old.

Megan Farmer/KUOW

“I’ve had a lot of firearms pointed in my direction, a lot of lead being shot in my direction,” he says. “I’ve been peppered with birdshot.”

He says he’s had his tires slashed, his fish stolen. He’s gotten death threats on social media.

Schuyler’s tribe and others are sovereign nations that have treaties with the US government that date back to the mid-1800s. Those treaties guarantee their right to hunt, fish and gather. The treaties also grant them a role in fish and wildlife management.

But Schuyler says some residents and some public officials don’t think the tribe should have those rights.

“And [so] it becomes socially acceptable to attack the tribe, tribal members and tribes’ rights,” he says.

Elk damage farms

Not far from where the elk grazed in a pasture in the early morning, Eileen and Randy Good have worked as dairy farmers and cattle ranchers for more than four decades. The Goods both grew up in Skagit Valley.

Now, Eileen Good says, the elk are “making it impossible for us to survive as a farmer.”

She says the elk knock down fences, eat up pastures and destroy crops.

“I figure we have lost like $36,000 a year due to the elk crossing and wrecking the fences all the time,” Randy Good says.

He points to a Skagit County Assessor’s report that says elk are causing $1.4 million of damage in the valley every year. That number relies on farmers self-reporting the damage, but no one doubts the loss is real and widespread.

Bill Schmidt is president of the Skagit Valley Farm Bureau. He objects to any tribal involvement in elk management.

Randy and Aileen Good have farmed in Skagit Valley for four decades. They say elk have damaged their farm and farm equipment.

Megan Farmer/KUOW

“I mean, it’s like one percent or less of our population is controlling the management of the elk,” he says, “and it doesn’t seem right.”

Historians say Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have hunted elk for thousands of years. Still, Schmidt maintains white settlers in the early 1900s said there weren’t many Native Americans in Skagit Valley.

And those who were there, he says, “They were not into deer and elk. They were basically fishermen.”

Historians say that claim is incorrect.

But, for Schmidt, this is about something beyond the specifics of deer and elk and fish.

“They’re claiming all these rights because it’s an easy way to have extra rights,” he says. “I think they should be more forthright and try and be — to me — more American.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to bridge the divide by keeping elk away from farms, reimbursing farmers for losses and shooting problematic animals.

Wildlife officials will be spending the next three months counting and collaring the Skagit Valley’s elk. Their goal is to minimize conflict while also growing the herd to a more robust population.

Tribal member Scott Schuyler says compromise is difficult because of the pervasive belief that neither elk nor tribes belong in the valley.

“We made this deal with the United States,” Schuyler says. “It was like, ‘OK, well, you’re giving up your land, but, you know what? We’ll let you continue fishing and hunting.'”

“Those same rights are under attack.”

25 horses seized in Enumclaw after allegations of abuse

25 horses seized in Enumclaw after allegations of abuse

Sharon Hunter, operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue, is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo.
                                The operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. (Ashley Hiruko / Sound Publishing)Sharon Hunter, operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue, is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo. The operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. (Ashley Hiruko / Sound Publishing)

The woman who reportedly owned the horses faced animal cruelty charges in Snohomish County in 2018.

The King County Sheriff’s Office recently raided a Plateau home and took custody of 25 horses after receiving tips concerning animal abuse.

According to Sgt. Ryan Abbott, deputies went to the home on the 38300 block of 324rd Place SE on Dec. 7, after the homeowner called SAFE —the Save A Forgotten Equine rescue organization — about the two dozen horses on her land.

The horses reportedly belong to a woman named Sharon Hunter, who is the owner of Hunter’s Wind Wild Horse Rescue, a nonprofit based in Redmond. According to Abbott, Hunter asked the homeowner to house some horses for a few weeks while Hunter found a more permanent home for them.

SAFE has taken custody of the horses, which are now up for adoption.

The Redmond Reporter published an article about Hunter and her nonprofit last September. According to the paper, Hunter’s Wind Wild Horse Rescue started out taking in horses scheduled to be killed, but it was unknown if any of the horses were being put up for adoption. The number of horses Hunter owns is unclear, but at one time was estimated to number more than 100.

In February 2018, the Snohomish County Animal Services received a complaint about some horses much in the same situation as the ones seized in Enumclaw — Hunter reportedly approached the homeowners to board the horses on their land, but allegedly failed to care for them.

According to the Reporter, law officers and veterinarians found one horse lying in his own feces and urine, severely malnourished, as well as other horses that were wounded, underweight, and infected.

Hunter was charged with six counts of second-degree animal cruelty in Snohomish County.

Since then, King County has seized horses from an Auburn herd of 80 in August, where there were more allegations of undernourishment and abandonment.

Additionally, there was an issue in Fall City with a herd of 40 after property owners sent a notice to Hunter they wanted her horses off their land. After the deadline to move the horses passed, SAFE attempted to help adopt out some of the horses, but were told to cease and desist by Hunter, who was then allowed to take the 25 horses to move elsewhere.

It’s been speculated those 25 horses were then moved to Enumclaw.

“The truth is that she’s got groups of horses that she’s just shuffling from one place to another. Either she gets thrown off a property, or law enforcement’s getting too close or what have you,” Bonnie Hammond, executive director of SAFE, said. “She’ll tell stories about saving America’s wild horses and all this really romantic stuff. But in truth, she’s just stockpiling them and they sit and they fight with each other and the stallions breed with the mares.

“I would like her to stop acquiring horses,” she continued. “She needs to stop doing this and the scary thing is, there’s still plenty of horses out there. She could get them from the auctions by the truckload.”

A GoFundMe page for Hunter was created in August to raise money for emergency hay for the horses; only about $300 was raised.

Contact information for Hunter could not be found before deadline; it appears the nonprofit’s Facebook page has been disabled.


New drone, underwater footage of orcas stuns researchers, gives intimate look at killer whales’ family life

Who knew orcas were so playful, so full of affection, so constantly touching one another?

New footage taken by drone as well as underwater stunned researchers who spent two days with the southern resident orca J pod off the British Columbia coast, including with the newest baby, and more time with northern resident killer whales in B.C.’s Johnstone Strait. The footage taken during three weeks in August and early September was filmed in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, a science research nonprofit.

“It took our breath away,” said Andrew Trites, professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Zoology and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Trites is co-lead researcher on a study that over five years is taking a close look at resident killer whales and their prey.

Researchers are comparing the hunting of northern resident orcas like these with the behavior of endangered southern residents. Footage of the whales shot by drone and underwater is opening new understanding of orcas’ lives in the wild. (University of British Columbia / Hakai Institute)
Researchers are comparing the hunting of northern resident orcas like these with the behavior of endangered southern residents. Footage of the whales shot by drone and underwater is opening new understanding of orcas’ lives in the wild…. More 

The drone footage was gathered non-invasively, with the camera hundreds of feet above the whales, who did not seem to even know it was there, Trites said. Combined with underwater microphones, tracking devices used to follow adult chinook, and underwater footage, a spectacular new look into orcas and their day-to-day life in the wild is emerging.

The big standout so far is just how much the orcas touch one another, something not as visible from a boat.

“We like to think we are hardened research scientists, but it tugged at our heart strings,” Trites said, “Especially the mum and calf.”

“These drones are opening up avenues of their lives we have never seen before,” Trites said. “The same way we hug our kids and hug our friends, touch furthers those bonds. That’s the power of touch, and here we have killer whales reminding us of that — who would have thought?”

J pod’s newest baby, here swimming with her mother, carried a salmon in her mouth for two days this summer near the Fraser River in British Columbia, even though she is 3 months old and feeding on her mother’s milk. Was she teething? Learning how to be a big killer whale some day? (Andrew Trites / University of British Columbia)
J pod’s newest baby, here swimming with her mother, carried a salmon in her mouth for two days this summer near the Fraser River in British Columbia, even though she is 3 months old and… (Andrew Trites / University of British Columbia) More 

J pod’s new baby whale, J56, also was seen near the mouth of the Fraser River toting a salmon around in her mouth for two days, even though she is only 3 months old and entirely feeding on her mother’s milk. Is she teething? Or learning how to how to act like a grown-up killer whale?

The core question the investigators are exploring is whether southern residents can get enough chinook salmon — their preferred prey — to eat in the Salish Sea. Data could help answer the question of why for the past three years the southern residents have not been coming back as usual to their core foraging areas in San Juan Island and B.C.

Hostile Waters: Orcas in Peril

ABOUT THIS SERIES “Hostile Waters” exposes the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales, among our region’s most enduring symbols and most endangered animals. The Seattle Times examines the role humans have played in their decline, what can be done about it and why it matters.

The southern residents also are thinner on average than the northern residents and have been steadily declining in population, to just 73 animals, while northern residents have been slowly growing in population to more than 300. Like the southern residents, the northerns eat only fish, preferable chinook, but their core habitat while far smaller has more abundant fish runs, and cleaner, quieter water.

By observing both populations and their prey, researchers hope to compare their foraging conditions and hunting behaviors and learn whether it is more difficult for the southern residents to capture prey. “One of the conclusions is, yes, there is a food problem,” Trites said. “But we have to be able to answer that with not just an impression or belief, but with data.”

A southern resident killer whale swims past a school of salmon last August at the Fraser River delta in British Columbia. Fraser chinook have been in decline and sightings of the southern residents in their traditional summer foraging grounds near the San Juan Islands also have become scarce. (Keith Holmes / Hakai Institute)
A southern resident killer whale swims past a school of salmon last August at the Fraser River delta in British Columbia. Fraser chinook have been in decline and sightings of the southern residents in… (Keith Holmes / Hakai Institute) More 

To learn more about the presence, abundance and quality of the orcas’ prey, co-lead Scott Hinch, director of the Pacific Salmon Ecology and Conservation Lab at the University of British Columbia, is capturing and tagging chinook, probing where the big fish are, and examining nutritional quality of the fish.

“We are putting all these pieces together to see what is going on,” Trites said.

The $1 million project is part of the federally funded Whale Science for Tomorrow initiative by the Canadian government, with additional funding and support from other sources.

Washington state considers importing B.C. grizzlies to re-establish bears in North Cascades

The translocation of bears is likely years away as Washington state and B.C. officials are in the early stage of talks about how that would work, and the province said First Nations have to be consulted first.

Updated: October 15, 2019

The U.S. has dusted off a plan to repopulate the North Cascades area of Washington state with grizzly bears by translocating dozens of Canadian grizzlies to the U.S.

The U.S. parks and fish and wildlife departments are accepting public comments about its environmental impact statement on a grizzly bear restoration plan that could see dozens of young, mostly female, bears flown into North Cascades National Park.

Conservationists in both countries support the plan to establish a grizzly bear population in the vast park that’s on the other side of the border from Manning Park, and where the last sighting of a grizzly was in 1996.

“It would be great,” said Joe Scott, international program director for Conservation Northwest. “It would be a wonderful conservation success story for both the U.S. and B.C.”

The approval process in the U.S. would take at least another year and it would take several years of gradually introducing the bears stateside, about 25 bears over five to 10 years, before the grizzlies ideally would be self-sustaining, he said.

The bears would likely be imported from B.C. because the bears should be from a similar ecosystem (berry eating as opposed to salmon eating, for instance) and would likely be flown in by copter to ensure that they’re delivered a “fair distance from humans, for obvious reasons,” said Jack Oelfke, chief of natural and cultural resources for North Cascades National Park.

He said conservationists and the public have been supportive of bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades. But some are opposed, such as the ranching industry.

B.C. government has had a representative on one of the U.S. committees contributing to the recovery plan in the past, and supports efforts to restore grizzlies to Washington state.

The province and the state are in the “early planning stages” to determine if grizzlies can be translocated from B.C., and B.C. First Nations have to be consulted, a spokesperson from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said in an email.

The ministry said, generally, the province’s grizzly bear population is healthy and stable at around 15,000 bruins.

“The province will be collaborating with Indigenous Peoples in the near future to draft a provincial grizzly bear management plan,” it said.

“We do have bears to spare,” said Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. But not in Canada’s North Cascades grizzly bear population unit, where it’s estimated fewer than 10 bears live.

Two years ago, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, in a report on B.C.’s grizzly bear conservation efforts, said one of the goals of the province’s conservation strategy was to lead the way in international recovery efforts, but that the U.S. was leading the way. The report also said, “it may be that recovery actions have been too little, too late” for the North Cascades’ grizzly population in Canada.

Scapillati said the bears would likely have to come from elsewhere in B.C. If the U.S. recovery plan was successful, it could help the North Cascades’ population recover in Canada, conservationists said.

The U.S. grizzly recovery study was first announced in 2014, halted in 2017, and then restarted last year. The Americans have until Oct. 24 to comment on the plan.

As killer whales starve to death, public anger drives a shift in the political winds

The final moments of J54.

Young J54, covered in rake marks from the attempt to keep him alive, is held afloat between his sister, J46 (left) and a cousin in late October 2017. He probably died within hours of this photo.

Third of three parts. See parts 1 and 2.

Everyone in the San Juan Islands who watches the whales remembers the summer of 2016. No one wants to relive it.

That was the summer the Southern Residents lost seven members, including one of the J Pod’s elderly matriarchs, who scientists say are the acknowledged leaders of the pods and repositories of the stored knowledge essential to the whales’ survival. But it was the death of J28 and her calf that stirred people to action.

It was late summer when observers began noticing J28, a 23-year-old female known as Polaris. She had given birth to a male calf that spring, but as the summer wore on, it became clear something was wrong. One day in August was especially telling.

The scene unfolded in the waters directly off Lime Kiln Lighthouse, in Washington state’s San Juan Islands: Polaris’s 6-year-old daughter, J46, nicknamed Star, was swimming about actively in the roiling currents with her mother and her baby brother, who had been designated J54, but had not yet been named.

They were not, as is often the case at this lighthouse, merely frolicking in the nearby seas. They were pursuing the salmon that comprise most of these endangered killer whales’ diets, and there was a deadly serious intent to it.

J46 Star, left, and her mother, J28, playing in 2011, when Star was only eight months old.

A week or so before, researchers at the nearby Center for Whale Research had sounded an alarm of sorts about Polaris, who was in her reproductive prime, and by extension the dire lack of salmon for the Southern Resident killer whale population. Ken Balcomb, the center’s founder, had reported that another J Pod matriarch, J14 (Samish), was missing and presumed dead, and that several whales appeared to be struggling.

“Things are shaping up to be pretty bad,” said Balcomb. “J28 is looking super-gaunt, and I would say she is within days of her death.”

The “peanut head” condition that Balcomb had reported—a severe sunkenness in the flesh directly behind the orca’s skull, an indication of extreme malnutrition and often a harbinger of imminent death—was clearly visible in Polaris the day we observed her, about a week after the warning. However, the listlessness CWR had reported also was ameliorated somewhat: The orca mother appeared at times to be frolicking physically with her calf, and seemed to be fairly active, though at times she also was simply “logging,” laying still on the surface and drifting with the current.

J28 and J54
The last known photo of J28 and J54 together, early October 2016.

The most striking aspect of the scene was Star’s activity. She swam constantly around her two companions, diving deep at length and doing percussive behaviors like tail-lobbing and pectoral-slapping, often pointing in her mother’s direction. At times, the three of them would go down into the deep currents and disappear for minutes at a time, evidently foraging. It appeared to my amateur eye that she was herding the salmon she could find toward her mother, helping her get the food she so desperately needed.

The scene also had a deep emotional resonance for me: Six summers before, when Star had just been a still-callow baby of eight months, I had encountered her with Polaris a little south of the lighthouse, along a cliff wall in my kayak. I had tucked into a cove, well out of their way, and began taking photos.

That too had been a deeply touching scene: The mother and little amber-toned calf had played in the still morning waters, nuzzling and wrestling about, reveling in the kind of contact that human parents and their bonded offspring know well, the joy of touching. Polaris also seemed to be feeding the calf, getting its first nascent tastes of fish as the mother dove and brought at least one healthy Chinook to the surface to show and share, as these orcas have been observed doing for years.

Six years later, the now-grown calf was doing her part, returning that love and care to her mother by helping her find and catch the salmon she clearly has not been getting. The familial bonds of killer whales are now a scientifically established fact, but they are profound things to observe, spine-chilling reminders of the deep connection that exists between humans and orcas, whom the Northwest Native Americans referred to as “the people under the sea.”

The afternoon feeding at the lighthouse was a bit of good news, at least—it appeared that Polaris was more active and feeding well. Orcas have occasionally recovered from “peanut head,” though rarely (in captivity, it has been a virtual death sentence). Still the worry remained, and was compounded by the reality that if Polaris died, it meant nearly certain death for her still-unweaned calf, too.

In some regards, the loss of J14 Samish—a 44-year-old female whose still-mysterious death can’t be attributed to malnutrition or a lack of salmon, since the last sightings of her just days before her disappearance showed her in robust apparent health—may prove even more devastating for the Puget Sound’s endangered orcas. Recent research has revealed that post-menopausal females play an essential role in orcas’ long-term survival, because they actively lead the pods in their foraging and represent long-term memory of prey-seeking routes. Without their immense brains leading the way, orcas have a harder finding the large of amounts of fish they need to eat daily to survive and thrive.

That year also saw the loss of a big, striking male once so large he was nicknamed “Doublestuff,” who died after being struck by some unknown vessel. There was also a mother who died after her developed fetus died and became necrotic. Another big male died after government scientists darted him, and the wound became infected.

The bad news regarding the two well-known orca females cast a pall over a multimillion-dollar whale-watching industry in the San Juans that had just endured the worst season (for seeing resident orcas, at least) in its history, and seemed to cast a cloud on the island’s whole community. As September drew to a close, it seemed everyone wanted to know how J28 was doing, as though the fate of the Southern Resident killer whale population seemed to hinge on the news. And in some respects it may have.

J2 Granny, playing in the kelp near Lime Kiln Lighthouse in 2012.

The orcas’ human advocates were not giving up, but the picture was becoming grim. “Right now, we don’t even have a sustaining population of Southern Residents,” said Deborah Giles. “We’ve gone backwards. There were 88 animals when they were listed in 2005. Now we are down to 82, and maybe fewer very soon.” As she said this, she looked out over the waters where we had all observed Polaris and her offspring a few days before, and a cloud crossed her face.

A month later, on Oct. 28, CWR scientists made it official at a press conference in Seattle: J-28 had disappeared and was now presumed dead. Her baby, J-54, they said, looked even more malnourished and was being supported in the water by his sister, J-46. They gave him only a few more days, if not hours, to live, and at the time of the announcement was also presumed dead.

“It’s a sad day,” said Ken Balcomb. “I’ve been to several funerals and that’s what this feels like.”

Something snapped. The agony of watching a mother orca slowly starve to death, followed by the spectacle of her unweaned baby’s path towards the same death, was like a final straw that kicked the region’s whale advocates into action.

Coordinating among several advocacy groups and the CWR, they organized a press conference at the Seattle waterfront focusing on the deaths of J28 and J54 as a tragic warning sign for the state of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. Even the normally reclusive Balcomb was persuaded to participate, and he delivered the message in stark terms.

“We know what we need to do—feed them!” Balcomb told the assembled reporters, and urged government officials to take immediate steps to begin removing the four Lower Snake River dams.

“Restore Chinook habitat, anywhere, anyhow,” he said. “If we don’t, we will lose our whales.”

The surge of publicity created immediate political pressure on the state’s politicians, though it eased off over the following year or so, but local lobbying efforts in Olympia, led by the Pacific Whale Watch Association and other advocacy groups, stepped up their intensity during 2017, culminating in Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 2018 announcement that he was forming an Orca Recovery Task Force to tackle the problem.

In the meantime, the bad news for the Southern Residents reached a kind of apex when, shortly after New Year’s Day 2017, Balcomb and the CWR announced a momentous death in the population: J2, aka Granny, the J Pod’s grand matriarch who was estimated to be more than 100 years old.

There was only one further death in the population in 2017: J52 Sonic, a 2-year-old male who disappeared in September. But 2017 also saw a significant change in the Residents’ behavior: Their presence in the Salish Sea waters became extremely scarce.

It may have been one of the effects of Granny’s death; matriarchs are known to be the leaders of the pods, calling the shots on where they go and when, and the change in J Pod leadership clearly affected its foraging patterns. However, the far more likely culprit in the change was the disappearance of Fraser River salmon.

The Chinook produced by the Fraser—which flows out of British Columbia just south of Vancouver—have long been the primary reason the Southern Residents have come to the Salish Sea in the summertime: Scientists estimate that 80 percent of their summer diet comprises fish from the Canadian river. And in the summer of 2017, the numbers of Chinook returning to the system, measured at the Albion Point salmon station, simply flatlined.

Canadian officials remain puzzled at how the returns simply fell off the table that year, but the trend has remained similar through 2018 and much of 2019, as well. The return of the J Pod to the San Juans this past week coincided with a marginal rise in salmon return numbers on the Fraser.

So for most of the summers of 2018 and 2019, the Southern Residents have simply been absent from the Salish Sea.

“It still feels very surreal that we’ve just had our first June on record with no Southern Resident killer whales in inland waters,” wrote Monika Wieland, executive director of the Orca Behavior Institute and the author of Endangered Orcas: The Story of the Southern Residentsat her blog. “June used to be a highlight of the year because of the abundance of sightings of all three pods on the west side of San Juan Island. Yet here we are, 58 days without any of them in the Salish Sea. The silence created by their absence is deafening.”

A humpback whale breaches in Haro Strait with the Olympic Mountains in the background.

The absence of the Residents, however, has not been the complete disaster one would expect both for land-based whale watchers and for the whale-watching operations based in the San Juans and Vancouver/Victoria area. That’s because the second population of orcas to use these waters—the mammal-eating population known as transients, or Bigg’s killer whales—have suddenly begun showing up in unusually large numbers.

The two populations—which geneticists have determined haven’t exchanged DNA in more than 300,000 years—are not friendly; when they have been observed in proximity to each other, the Residents have generally chased away the smaller pods of Bigg’s whales. So scientists have hypothesized that the Bigg’s whales may be taking advantage of the absence of the Residents to access the abundant numbers in the Salish Sea of their main prey: namely, seals and sea lions.

Additionally, humpback whales—which were absent from the Salish Sea after being hunted out near the turn of the 20th century—have begun returning as well, feeding on the large schools of herring and the semi-abundant krill that can be found here.

Transient orcas kill a Dall
A pod of mammal-eating Bigg’s orcas catch and kill a Dall’s porpoise on May 25.

Certainly, passengers on the region’s whale-watching tours have had plenty to witness. On one tour I took this spring, we followed a pod of Bigg’s whales as they hunted a Dall’s porpoise at high speed, and then turned the waters around them blood-red when they finally caught and killed it. Even more common have been sightings of Bigg’s whales launching hapless harbor seals 50 feet into the air with their powerful flukes at the climax of a hunt.

A transient calf and mother.
A transient calf with its mother in Juan de Fuca Strait.

“The transients are fascinating animals, and it’s been great to have them here,” says Jeff Friedman, owner of Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching and president of the PWWA. “They are amazing to watch, especially when they’re hunting.”

However, the tour operators aren’t content with the new reality. “The fact is that our number one priority is the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale population,” Friedman says. “They are the reason we are here. Even with the transients around, the picture isn’t right without the Residents.”

Friedman, like the scientists and advocates, has been heavily engaged in the Orca Recovery Task Force process. Even though his focus has necessarily been directed to warding off the would-be moratorium on whale watching, he says his primary mission remains getting enough fish in the water to return the Resident population to health.

However, many of the solutions under consideration by the task force—habitat restoration, vessel effects, toxins in the water, and dam removal among them—are all long-term solutions that do relatively little to help the orcas now. Even if the Lower Snake dams were all to be taken down within the year (not at all likely), it would be as long as another decade (though perhaps sooner, depending on which salmon scientists you talk to) before the Snake/Salmon river systems would produce numbers of fish appreciable enough to help the killer whales.

The pressing issue facing scientists is how to get enough fish in the water to feed the orcas right now.

J35 Tahlequah romps in the waters off Lime Kiln Lighthouse on Sunday, Aug. 25.

J35 Tahlequah, the mother whose mourning for her dead calf gripped the world last summer, thus sparking the wave of anger over the loss of the whales that finally drove the state’s politicians into action, was among the J Pod whales who returned to the San Juans last week. She looked plump and healthy, frequently playing with little J56, and tail-slapping and socializing.

“We have seen her foraging successfully a couple of times. She looked really healthy to me,” says Deborah Giles. “It made everyone happy.”

Both the condition and the behavior of J Pod made clear that they have, for now at least, figured out how to sustain themselves without enduring the paucity of salmon that has been their reality in the Salish Sea recently. “It’s so heartening to see these whales, and to see them together, see them playing, lifting each other up out of the water, breaches and tail slaps—it’s really amazing,” says Giles. “And it’s really, really good to see them looking as well as they do.

“But in the back of my head, I am thinking—where is K pod? Where is L pod? Are there more babies? Obviously K27 lost the baby she was pregnant with last September. She didn’t come back with a baby. K pod hasn’t had a new baby since 2011.”

While J Pod appears to have regained its health, there were nonetheless three deaths among the Southern Residents this year, including J17, a 42-year-old matriarch known as Princess Angeline. She was Tahleuqah’s mother, making J35 the matriarch of her clan at age 21.

So while Giles spends her time this month on the water collecting scat samples, she has been directing her political focus on getting more fish in the water sooner. For her, that means fisheries management.

The Northwest’s salmon harvest is carefully regulated by a treaty overseen by the Pacific Salmon Commission, an international body that includes both American and Canadian stakeholders such as commercial and sport fishermen, as well as Native American tribes. That body produces a treaty every 10 years—vigorously negotiated—in which the salmon harvest produced in Pacific waters is divvied up among those various interests.

The Southern Resident killer whales, however, do not have a place at that table. So their needs are left to whatever might be left over from the divided harvest.

“What we’ve all been screaming about is giving the whales a place as a major stakeholder in fisheries management,” says Giles. “We’re asking for an allocation of fish for the whales.”

The solution, as she sees it, is for much tighter regulation, if not an outright moratorium, on fishing for Chinook in the orcas’ home waters, which run the entire length of the Pacific Coast.  “If not full on fisheries closures, we at least need to have targeted regulations for where and how we fish,” Giles says. “It’s past time we’re doing that. And a lot of that has to do with tribal rights, which is where it becomes very political.”

Recently undertaken studies aimed at identifying key orca-foraging “hotspots” in the San Juans could help provide the data needed to make such a plan a reality, Giles says. However, “the thing I am scared that if we don’t get a handle on these fisheries, there won’t be any salmon even in those hotspots.

The PSC itself has been resistant to these overtures, though its most recent news releases have indicated at least a sensitivity to the political pressure that has arisen around orca recovery.

“At the Pacific Salmon Commission, at that highest level, in the rhetoric around the most recent treaty, the dialogue was that ‘the needs of the Southern Residents would be taken into consideration,’ but if you look at the treaty itself, the words ‘whale,’ ‘killer whale,’ ‘orca whale’—none of that show up in the treaty itself,” Giles observes.

“So basically it’s just lip service. Those words ‘allocation’ and ‘Southern Resident’—they don’t want those to pass into reality. No way.”

However, an adjunct body of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the Pacific Management Fishery Council, has proven more amenable to whale advocates’ overtures. It is holding public hearings of an ad hoc group in key cities around the Pacific Northwest, examining the impacts of mixed open fishing on Southern Resident killer whales.

“It is a start, and the more people that get involved in those hearings, and make comments leading up to the meetings” the better, Giles says, noting that the deadline for such comments is Tuesday.

Overall, Giles is mostly heartened by how the public has responded to the killer whales’ plight, and how the effort has drawn help from a variety of quarters. “There are a lot of people working in a lot of different arenas to help these whales in different capacities—like the Toxic-Free Future people, who are doing a lot of important work to remove toxins from our system, and to try to push legislation that reduces the use of chemicals as much as possible. I think that’s good, I think we need to keep pushing each other in our own areas of expertise. “

“And we need to be engaging with our political appointees, the people that we elect, and pushing them into continuing to address the issues and continuing to cut to solutions,” she adds.

At times, particularly back in 2016, Giles would confess that she feared she was doomed simply to document the demise of a once-great population of killer whales. These days, she is more hopeful—not to mention determined.

“We may well be witnesses to the complete loss of the Southern Residents,” she says. “But we know what can be done. It may get depressing at times, but none of us will ever stop fighting for them.”