Do No Harm

Do No Harm Poster

First, do no harm.

One guiding principle of health care providers is not to make things worse. A lovely warning for anyone with intentions to make things better.

After months dedicated to house moving, I’m reconnecting with the world of whales and re-examining what my part might be in supporting our oceans and whales. Do No Harm is a great reminder, especially when the total slurry of a political landscape blurs the choices of where to put my energy.

One development I’d been following is an effort to establish a local Northwest whale protection zone off of San Juan Island for the endangered southern resident Orcas. NOAA filed a petition proposing a ¾ mile wide strip along its west side to be free of all power boats (plus a ¼ mile speed limit zone). It was joined by the Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Seawolf and comments from the public were invited through last April.

My little whale-loving heart vowed to go ahead and send in my comments and I envisioned calling it the Granny Sanctuary to honor the 104-year-old Orca matriarch who died last year.

Well, complications surfaced as soon as I looked at the map. Of course, this is also a prime whale watching area, including Lime Kiln Park, one of the rare places to whale watch from shore. Also the nearness of the Canadian border meant that any efforts to control boat noise could only extend halfway across the channels.

Map Proposed San Juan Whale Protection Zone

Pro and Con

The purpose of the protection zone is to reduce boat engine noise that masks the Orcas’ salmon hunting echolocation system. As I poked around for information on power boat noise and Orca foraging, I found one study that does indeed show less foraging and social behavior in the presence of power boats.

Those against the zone predict little benefit compared to direct ways of increasing salmon. In addition, the whale watching and fishing businesses would find it difficult to support their own loss of income.

To balance the pro’s and con’s it helps to keep in mind what most everybody agrees are the main threats to the resident Orcas: lack of food, toxins, and noise pollution. Most agree that the food issue is number one but this is not a democratic issue where you vote for just one. All three threats interact. A baby Orca, for example, is at greater risk when its nursing mother takes longer to find scarcer food because of boat noise and both her own system and the milk she provides are less healthy from the ongoing toxin load.

Doing Nothing

The deadline has passed. Proposals for similar zones have failed in the past. I never came to a place where I thought I could make a coherent comment to help the decision makers. Many did comment and the input is being processed currently.

Maybe Do No Harm should be one guiding principle in our evolving world but by Doing Nothing, I suspect I’ve fallen too far in the other direction. My feelings tell me I need to do more than nothing.

With that in mind, our house move chaos is over and I’ll pick up a more regular mostly monthly rhythm for these blogposts. I’ll also be adding more frequent Facebook updates to let subscribers know about timely events and actions they can take. Maybe one of you will send in the comment that tips the scales on the next proposal to improve our oceans.