Southern Resident Orcas Are Going Extinct – Dr. Bronner’s & Coextinction Filmmakers Share How We Can Stop This

In 2018 an orca named Tahlequah in the North American Pacific Northwest made international headlines when she carried her deceased calf for 17 days in what many viewed as a profound grieving process. Tahlequah is the member of an endangered community of orcas, the Southern Residents, who have experienced so much loss that their population is now facing extinction. There are currently 73 Southern Resident orcas remaining.

When Tahlequah’s story appeared in the news it struck a nerve amongst not only the residents of the Pacific Northwest who are familiar with the Southern Resident Orcas, but also amongst a broader population of people around the world who are grieving the loss of myriad species due to environmental destruction. Two filmmakers—Gloria Pancrazi and Elena Jean—sprang into action to document the heartbreaking story, and quickly discovered that the impacts threatening the Southern Resident orcas with extinction are also a threat to a much broader and essential web of species and communities.

Dr. Bronner’s is thrilled to be a key partner with Coextinction, the emotional and action-packed film that Pancrazi and Jean have created to inspire action and create change in the race to stop the extinction crisis in its tracks. The filmmakers’ artful weaving of the interconnected issues impacting the survival of the Southern Resident orcas resonates powerfully with Dr. Bronner’s interconnected approach to creating change. We can’t confront these issues in isolation—there are systemic reasons for the many environmental crises we are facing, and we must tackle them at their root.

Deeply moved by the powerful messages in Coextinction, Dr. Bronner’s decided to place a call to action on our label. For sale in Canada, our new limited-edition “Protect Orcas!” Liquid Castile Soap highlights a call to action on four key issues that have an enormous impact on the existence of the Southern Resident orcas. The “Protect Orcas!” soap will be showing up on Canadian shelves over the coming month!

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Support Indigenous Sovereignty

“Nobody signed any agreements. Nobody signed any of our lands away. Industry has been able to come in and move in and rent and abuse and leave us with a disaster, a mess to clean up.”

-Chief Ernest Alfred (K’wak’wabalas) of Namgis First Nation and activist against the Open Net Fish Farming

Indigenous Nations in the Pacific Northwest have coexisted with the Southern Resident orcas for time immemorial. Orcas play a significant cultural role in many Indigenous communities in the region and feature heavily in traditional stories and artworks. Many of the threats facing orcas are also felt by Indigenous communities in the region, who have been resisting colonialism and extractive industries on their territories since the early 1600s.

Indigenous land and water defenders have been calling attention to the plight of the Southern Resident orcas for many years and are situated to have a clear perspective on the impacts and the solutions, informed by deep cultural relationships and shared histories. Listening to Indigenous voices, experiences, and calls to action are crucial for taking meaningful action in defense of the Southern Resident orcas.

Learn how to Support Indigenous Sovereignty! 

End Open Net Salmon Farming

“ Problem is, what is in the pens is coming out. It’s exposing wild fish to whatever’s in the pens. Piscine Reovirus is infecting 80% of farmed salmon. It causes the hearts of these farmed salmon to weaken—it just destroys the muscle in the heart. But research recently has shown that when this virus gets out of the farms and infects wild chinook salmon, it simply causes their cells to explode.”

– Alexandra Morton, Salmon Researcher

Wild Chinook salmon make up 80% of the food that the Southern Resident orcas consume, but they also face a number of threats to their survival. Industrial salmon farming practices in the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest are spreading disease and lice amongst the wild salmon populations.

Industrial salmon farming has been able to continue to wreak havoc on wild salmon populations and coastal habitats for too long. At the time of writing, the Canadian government has committed to phasing out industrial salmon farms in British Columbia by 2025, but the pressure to shut this destructive industry down must be maintained.

Take Action and End Open Net Salmon Farming!

Remove Obsolete Dams

“Breaching the four lower Snake River Dams is the best choice for recovering salmon. If you want to save orca, and save salmon, and save money, you need to breach these dams immediately because all those things are tied together.”

– Jim Waddell, Former Engineer, Snake River Dams

coextinction film Another huge issue impacting salmon populations are the river dams that block their traditional spawning grounds. Salmon are an anadromous fish which means that they hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, and then return to where they hatched in fresh water to spawn the next generation. But the widescale installation of dams for agriculture and energy production in the Pacific Northwest has resulted in salmon having greatly diminished spawning grounds and warmer water temperatures that they struggle to survive in.

Dam removal is a widely contentious issue due to human reliance on energy sources and water for industrial agriculture. Some dams have outlived their usefulness and would be cheaper to remove than to continue to maintain. The four lower Snake River Dams in Washington state are great examples of dams that could be removed today to restore salmon habitat and support the Southern Resident orcas, who benefit from a healthy salmon population. There is currently a great deal of pressure for the U.S. Congress to act to remove the four lower Snake River dams. Join the campaign to breach these obsolete dams!

Take Action to remove obsolete dams!

Stop Fossil Fuel Pipelines

“Our oil addiction continues to fuel the climate crisis, continued colonization, and the extinction of a species 
 We are still in a time where there is opportunity to stop it.”

– Elena Jean, Conservationist & Filmmaker

Fossil fuel pipelines pose huge risks to the land and waterways they pass over, as does the increased ship traffic at their export terminals. On land, they are often routed through unceded Indigenous territories and low-income communities of color who disproportionately bear the brunt of industrial pollution.

At sea, the shipping traffic around pipeline export terminals has been shown to have a big impact on the ability of orcas to hunt for their food. Orcas utilize echolocation to hunt, which means that they emit pulses into their environment and listen to the echo to locate objects. The high levels of ocean noise created by shipping traffic substantially interfere with this echolocation process, leaving orcas struggling to hunt efficiently for their meals.

Both Canada and the U.S. are massive exporters of fossil fuels, much of it traveling through pipelines before being loaded onto ships. Alternatives are plentiful, but government and corporate action is slow and usually inadequate. It is up to us to demand and create change, and there are many ways to do so.

Take Action to Stop Fossil Fuel Pipelines!

Follow Coextinction on social media for updates on upcoming screenings in Canada and around the world, and check out the film’s take action page to learn about exciting ways you can get involved and help protect the orcas!

Author Profile

Lilia Letsch

Lilia Letsch is Dr. Bronner’s Public Relations Program Manager. Her work focuses on supporting the company’s animal advocacy and international philanthropy initiatives as well as coordinating the Covid-19 response product donation program. She loves natural history, hiking, vegan food, and fiber arts.

See all stories by Lilia Letsch