Alexandra Johnston & Maria Nangle: Searching For Chinook with the Documentary's Makers
Sam: Can you tell us what 'Searching For Chinook' is about?
Alexandra: 'Searching For Chinook' is a journey following the last remaining Southern resident orca families of the Pacific Northwest and the people that are giving everything to save them. They are struggling to survive let alone thrive while facing a drastically depleting primary food source, the Chinook salmon.
Sam: What has inspired you to make the documentary?
Maria: After life long passions for orcas led us to visit San Juan Island (USA) to see the Southern residents in 2016, we came to discover first-hand how dire their situation really is. As activists, we were never going to sit back and not try to make a difference.
We have seen how successful documentaries, such as 'The Cove' and 'Blackfish', can be in raising awareness about threats facing cetaceans [whales, dolphins and porpoises]. Given Alexandra's work within the film industry, it made sense to go down this route.
Sam: Can you explain a little more about the plight of the Chinook salmon and why it is impacting the orcas so much?
Alexandra: Chinook salmon make up about 90% of the Southern resident orcas diet. They are part of this community's evolution over hundreds of thousands of years. The salmon themselves are suffering near extinction due to a number of factors including habitat destruction, pollution, dams hindering their access to spawning grounds, overfishing and disease from salmon farms spreading to wild populations.
As orcas are a marine mammal at the top of their food chain, pollution from the ocean builds up in their fat cells. When they do not have enough to eat, as is currently the case due to low Chinook numbers, they burn their fat cells for energy. This releases all of the toxins into their bodies, which can make them ill and can pass through their milk, therefore harming their calves.
Sam: What is being done to help the Chinook?
Maria: As it stands, not nearly enough. There are a number of people campaigning to breach the dams, which are of main concern, and some groups are working on habitat restoration and pollution awareness. The brunt of the work is being carried out by passionate individuals, but in general, much more individual and moreso political responsibility needs to be taken. This needs to be done immediately.
Sam: How many Southern residents remain and does the population have a chance of recovering?
Maria: There are only 75 individuals left. They have just enough breeding whales to recover the population provided we (mankind) make the necessary changes to conserve their habitat and the species within.
Sam: How does this make you feel?
Alexandra: It feels like we have fallen head-first down the rabbit hole. There are so many barriers to tackle that it would be easy to feel hopeless and defeated. However, then we see the whales... We are getting to spend much more time around them and therefore, are getting to know them better. They are still fighting and so must we.
Maria: We are not fighting alone, either. There are many voices speaking up for these whales and in the relatively short time we've been here, we've had the honour of working with some of the most wonderful humans we could ever hope to meet. You can see some of their work on their Instagram pages @blueadvocates and @pnwprotectors.
Sam: What can people do to help the orcas and Chinook?
Maria: One of the most obvious answers here is for people to stop eating and fishing salmon. Whether wild, hatchery or farmed, it all has negative implications environmentally. Without salmon in our diet nothing changes; without salmon in the Southern resident orcas' diet, the consequence is extinction.
Readers can also check out 'Dam Sense' to read up on the issues and see how they can show their support and add pressure to breach the Lower Snake River Dams.
Alexandra: Ocean pollution is a popular topic at the moment and one that everyone should be taking heed of. The orcas themselves are toxic and the salmon they are finding to eat are polluted too. This is most certainly making a difficult situation worse.
Maria: Lastly, while we are currently working on a website, everyone can visit us at @searchingforchinook on Instagram and 'Searching For Chinook' on Facebook to follow us on our journey.
Sam: 'Searching For Chinook' has been funded by concerned and passionate members of the public. Is there anything you would like to say to them?
Alexandra: Without their support we would not have made it this far. So a huge unconditional THANK YOU to all those who took the time to donate or show us support on social media. We are working hard out here to do this story the justice it deserves.
Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us about the documentary!
Follow Alexandra's and Maria's journey on Instagram and Facebook as they create 'Searching For Chinook'.
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