by Eric Lucas
If it’s August, whales are suffering.
I live on America’s Pacific Coast, a world-famous summertime visitor destination where hordes of ordinary, well-meaning people harass, torment and torture some of the world’s most charismatic wild creatures. The whales that ply our seas—especially the breathtaking, much-loved orcas of inland Northwest waters—wake up each morning, June through September, to the approaching howl of boat engines. They spend their days dodging a huge fleet of boats packed with googoo-eyed tourists who think they are at a Roller Derby match, an impression exacerbated by tour-boat operators who “honor” their so-called voluntary guidelines just like athletes do steroids prohibitions.
There are less than 100 Puget Sound orcas left. Holdovers from the days this inland sea wasn’t an exurban pond, they forage in waters fouled with urban runoff and toxic contaminants; they chase down remnants of our once-massive salmon runs, now reduced to trickles of minnows; they come up for air amid the whale-watch hordes to breathe clouds of engine exhaust.
And, underwater, all day, they listen to unspeakable nonstop caterwauling.
“Like a rocket ship taking off,” reports a Canadian scientific researcher who studied the noise impacts of whale-watching on the industry’s victims. He hung a hydrophone in the water and measured the decibels.
Try to imagine life, 10 hours a day, with a hundred or so helicopters buzzing a few feet overhead. That’s what it’s like for Puget Sound orcas.