ILWACO — “Orca Day,” a free, family-friendly event recognizing the Columbia River’s role in the lives of struggling southern resident orcas, is being sponsored June 15 at Cape Disappointment State Park by the Whale Trail, Washington State Parks and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The day will include kids’ activities from 1 to 4 p.m., and an evening presentation at 7 p.m. at the park’s Waikiki Amphitheater.
The evening program features John Calambokidis from Cascadia Research and The Whale Trail’s Donna Sandstrom. Port of Ilwaco Commissioner Butch Smith will introduce the featured speakers.
Afternoon activities and the evening lecture “will educate and inspire attendees with stories and facts about J, K and L orca pods along with an update on gray whales,” sponsors said in a press release.
Visitors to the interpretive Whale Trail (https://thewhaletrail.org) can view many types of whales and marine mammals from shore. The trail spans from California to British Columbia, and Cape Disappointment State Park is one of 100 sites along the trail.
The Columbia River’s nutritionally rich plume extends miles into the Pacific Ocean and is carried by currents up and down the coast. It provides food for a multitude of marine life, which in turn becomes food for fish — including the resident orcas’ preferred Chinook salmon. In recent years researchers have come to understand the importance of Columbia River Chinook and other salmon to the survival of Washington state’s orcas, which hunt along the coast in the winter and spring.
Southern resident orcas are endangered and could go extinct in as few as 100 years. Currently comprising just 76 individuals, the population is nearing its historical low of 71. Sandstrom, Smith and a representative from Washington State Parks serve on Gov. Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force. In November 2018, the task force recommended 36 actions to recover the southern residents.
“It’s not too late to save the southern residents — yet,” Sandstrom said. “The threats that have brought these beloved and iconic pods to the edge of extinction are all human-caused: loss of prey, noise and disturbance from vessels and toxic accumulations. We each and all have a role to play in their recovery.”
“As steward of Washington’s Seashore Conservation Area, State Parks is honored to be a partner in this inaugural event,” said Stephen Wood, parks interpretive specialist. “Cape Disappointment State Park is the ideal place along the southern Washington coast to see whales. North Head and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center offer excellent, sweeping views and the best chance at successful whale watching.”