Orcas (also known as killer whales) are dearly loved by inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, as they have long populated the waters of this region. Sadly, however, the modern era has presented these animals with a host of threats to their wellbeing.

Recent research conducted by British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture in Canada revealed that human activities such as boating, fishing, and military sonar testing represent a significant threat to these animals. Last year, residents of Pierce County, north of Seattle, expressed their unease over boaters traveling far too close to orcas, in an effort to watch them. Federal boating regulations require seacraft to maintain a 400-yard distance from behind an orca, and a 300-yard distance from either side. However, these regulations are often flouted, placing both animals and boaters at risk of a collision.

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Other common causes of mortality in the Pacific Northwest orca population include infections, parasites, disease, and malnutrition. 

Recent years have borne witness to a range of legislative efforts to confer protection on these animals. Last year, more than 350 scientists and conservationists from 40 countries called for more comprehensive global action to protect the planet’s whales, dolphins, and porpoises from extinction.

One Tree Planted is an environmental organization that has committed to making a positive difference for Pacific Northwest orcas.

Image Courtesy of One Tree Planted

I recently spoke with Canopy Director Diana Chaplin, to learn more about how One Tree Planted is helping to secure a better future for the orcas. They are doing this through an innovative tree planting project that seeks to improve the ecosystem of local salmon populations: orcas’ primary food source.

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“One Tree Planted is a global organization, so we have projects happening around the world, but we always cooperate with local groups on a project-by-project basis,” she explains. “By partnering with groups such as Promise the Pod, we help achieve a particular objective. Our tree planting project, in this case, stretches from northern California up to British Columbia, with the majority of the reforestation happening in Oregon and Washington states. What is really unique about this project is that we get to see how deeply interconnected various ecosystems in the region truly are.”

“First of all, we have the trees. They remove some of the runoff pollution from the ground, which would otherwise seep into local waters. The trees help improve the water quality of nearby rivers, making it easier for salmon to thrive. This then creates a more readily available food supply for orcas. And finally, the effects of the tree project filter right down to the ocean, by helping to improve the water quality there.”

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This project clearly demonstrates that the maintenance of healthy biodiversity involves understanding the connections between different ecosystems.

Image Courtesy of One Tree Planted

On a global scale, for example, the health of the world’s rainforests is deeply connected to the health of the planet’s polar ice caps. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is an indirect cause of Arctic and Antarctic ice loss, as global temperature rises are being driven by the destruction of trees that would ordinarily absorb greenhouse gases (luckily, there is one simple change you can incorporate into your daily life to help change this).

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One Tree Planted hopes to indirectly create a more positive future for threatened orcas, by utilizing the innate soil-cleaning ability of trees.

Image Courtesy of One Tree Planted

Image Courtesy of One Tree Planted

“Orcas in the Pacific Northwest have a long history with Native American communities in the area,” Diana says. “Orcas are deeply loved and deeply interwoven with the region’s history. It is sad that they’re currently endangered – exactly 73 of these whales live in the Pacific Northwest’s water right now. What our project really tries to focus on is improving their food source and reducing the run-off pollution that ends up in their ocean habitat.”

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