Story and photos by Gerald Patriarcha

A dozen volunteers took part in Orca Recovery Day restoration work at Riverview Park in Kent on Saturday November 19, 2022 to help the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Originally only in Washington, the event now also takes place in Northern California and British Columbia.

In partnership with Kent Parks, the event was originally organized by the Green River Coalition for October 15, but was postponed due to poor air quality.

“The critically endangered southern resident killer whale population needs salmon to survive,” said Shari Tarantino, executive director of the Orca Conservancy. “Residents in the south eat fish. Different killer whales around the world all have different diets.

The group of salmon-eating orcas consists of three pods, called pods J, K and L. There are a total of 73 whales in the three pods.

Alongside the educational kiosks, volunteers stabilized the bank by removing invasive plants along the Green River, mainly blackberries and mustard garlic, in what is called the riparian zone.

Michael Taton is the Operations Manager of the Green River Coalition and explained the importance of the area. The riparian zone is important because it is right next to the creek, he explained. Since salmon need cold, healthy water to survive, Taton said his goal is to plant trees, which provide shade for the water.

“Salmon can then survive, especially chinook salmon, and that’s the primary food source for southern resident killer whales,” Taton said.

Tarantino added that the temperature threshold for salmon is 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Residents in the south will eat about 80 to 85 percent of the chinook salmon,” she said. “They will also eat chum. The reason we had all three pods last week for four days in a row is because the number of buddies is the highest in 30 years. This is proof that restoration efforts are working.

The event was also an educational opportunity for Green River College students. The Green River Coalition partners with the college’s natural resources program and hires students into the program “to give them a taste of nature conservation,” said Tre Winchester, a former intern.

The paid internship allows students to obtain a two- or four-year degree. According to Taton, the programs include urban forestry, ecology and riparian restoration.

Educational efforts are not limited to volunteering or classroom work. Many nonprofits will host webinars outlining how people can help orcas, and some will go face-to-face with the community.

“Hopefully it will have a cascading effect later down the line,” Winchester said.

Tarantino said the orcas’ struggle for food is a sign of a bigger problem. “If an apex predator, which is at the top of the food chain, starts to fail, the whole ecosystem below fails and it affects us as humans.”

According to orcaconservancy.org, there are many ways to help southern resident killer whales, such as avoiding single-use plastics, opting for sustainable seafood due to “potential transfer of disease to wildlife, [and] pollution caused by fish droppings” and the use of environmentally friendly products. Tarantino added that making a contribution is the best way to support conservation efforts. “Please donate.”

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Gerald Patriarca holds a BA in Communications from Seattle Pacific University with a background in journalism. He wrote articles for his high school and college newspaper, spent time as an intern at KING 5 and KOMO 4, and worked at the Seattle Times. In addition to writing, Gerald, his wife Alma and their son James own JAG’s Auto Detail in Tukwila. To make an appointment and for more information, go to jagsautodetail.com.