Being Frank: We Are All Connected

For those of you who still don’t think Puget Sound and the ocean environments are in trouble, here’s some food for thought: If a dead orca were to wash up on your local beach, technically, it would have to be handled as toxic waste. Concentrations of poisons are so high in local orcas that the whale might have to be disposed of in a special incinerator used to clean up material from highly polluted Super-Fund sites.

How could it ever come to this? How could the mighty killer whale ever decline so far as to be listed as an endangered species? How could these magnificent animals, that thrill and amaze us all every time we see pods of them slash through the translucent Northwest waters, ever get so polluted?

The pollution of our whales is a story that began the first time a settler in the Northwest used DDT on his crops. It grew as more residents plastered the landscape with chemical pesticides and industrialists began discharging chemical-laden wastes into our rivers, streams and marine waters. It continued as the timber industry and thousands upon thousands of every day citizens treated trees, lawns and gardens with pesticides and herbicides. Oil was permitted to seep from supertankers, and from cars onto driveways, all without genuine regard to impacts on the environment. The reality was people thought the water was so vast that small amounts of pollutants would just disappear. But many of them do not break down and actually build up in the food chain. Public opinion polls tell us that 80 percent of the millions who inhabit our homeland think the waters that surround us are in good condition.

Well, 80 percent of the people are wrong.

The water the orcas swim in is polluted with everything from heavy metals and pesticides to oil and sewage. The most dire poisons to killer whales, scientists say, are organochlorines, a diverse group of chemicals manufactured for industrial and agricultural purposes, such as PCBs, and they’re among the most common poisons found in orca blubber.

I could recite a dozen such alphabetical concoctions, but the truly important thing to realize is that the orcas and other forms of wildlife are sick, and that we rely on the same food chain. As the great Chief Seattle once said, “All things are connected.”

Please, don’t wait for an orca to wash up on your beach before getting involved with efforts to turn the tide on Puget Sound or the ocean environment. The Puget Sound Partnership, which I co-chair along with State Ecology Director Jay Manning and former EPA Director Bill Ruckelshaus, has developed a list of priority actions you need to support, such as the implementation of salmon recovery plans, stricter oil prevention rules, restoration of 100 miles of Puget Sound shoreline and toxic sediment clean up. We’re engaged in an historic effort that you need to be part of, because everyone who lives here, without exception, is accountable for the stewardship of the environment we share. It’s time to become more aware of the problem, and to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Join an environmental organization or a watershed restoration group. Write to your elected officials. Vote for those who care. Most of all, teach your children that the orcas, and all other forms of wildlife, are our brothers and sisters, and we are all accountable for their health, well-being and survival.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.


For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, NWIFC (360) 438-1180