By Allan Warren, Pierce Conservation District
In late summer, the world watched as Tahlequah (J35) carried and pushed her dead orca calf on a 17-day, 1,000-mile tour of grief. When she finally let her calf go, it could have been the end of the story, one of many tragic losses the Southern Resident Killer Whales of the Salish Sea have been suffering lately. But, instead of it being the end of a heartbreaking story, it’s become the beginning of a story of hope.
What began as a simple discussion at Pierce Conservation District about what we could do to inform people about things they can do to help, exploded into Orca Recovery Day, a region-wide event that united people in action. We thought we’d get maybe five or six partners to join in, but that quickly grew to 10 Conservation Districts around Puget Sound and 12 – 15 other partner organizations jumping on board. The social media campaign we ran reached nearly 200,000 folks, many of whom engaged in an important and difficult conversation about what it will take to restore this critically endangered species.
For the day itself, over 700 people helped plant nearly 5,000 trees and shrubs, picked up over 700lbs of garbage along the shoreline, and installed or restored four rain gardens. Dozens of people also made public pledges to take everyday action to help recover Puget Sound.
“I (had) never been to an event like this before,” said Aneyceia Brim, one of 95 participants at Tacoma Narrows Park. “It was such an exciting experience and surprisingly very easy! I got to meet a lot of new people and great organizations committed to saving the environment. The work itself was really gratifying. It’s amazing to be able to point to something and say “I did that.” With a lot of these kinds of things you don’t actually get to see the impact you make, but I can actually see my work and come back and watch it grow. It’s a really beautiful thing. This work is so important and if it only helps one Orca, it was more than worth it.”
Events also included speakers like Congressman Denny Heck, Puyallup Tribal Council Member Anna Bean, and Pierce County Councilman Derek Young.
Speakers shared their connections to orcas and their commitment to restoring them, helping inspire people to action. To top it off at our event at Tacoma Narrows Park, as we finished the work and sat down for lunch, a humpback whale swam by, which we took as a sign of approval.
- 16 events (original goal was 6):
- 11 Conservation District events (Palouse CD pulled an event together east of the Cascades)
- 5 partner events
- 27 organizations participated in day of activities
- 778 volunteers participated
- 4,982 native plants were installed
- 700lbs of trash cleaned up
- 4 rain gardens installed
- 190,000 people reached via the social media campaign
We’re under no illusion that a single day will turn the tide in the fight to recover the Southern Residents, but it can build momentum. Orca Recovery Day was about connecting people to each other and our collective impact, to the work that needs to be done, to Puget Sound, and of course Orcas. This was the first of many to come. Collectively, we can fix this, we all just need to take action and keep the momentum going.