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Oct 24

[ARCHIVED] Orca Recovery Day 2023 with Pierce Conservation District

The original item was published from October 24, 2023 5:45 PM to October 25, 2023 8:22 AM

How Orca Recovery Day Started

Orca Recovery Day started in 2018 with the tragic story of a mother whale. A Southern Resident Killer Whale named Tahlequah gave birth to a calf who died. In her grief, she carried her dead calf for 17 days, traveling nearly 1000 miles of the Pacific Northwest Coast before letting go.

People worldwide sympathized with her grief. Orca newborn death is also not an uncommon phenomenon, with about 75% of calves in the Southern Resident orca population not surviving, according to the Center for Whale Research. Reflecting the public’s determination to protect orcas, Washington conservation districts created Orca Recovery Day. Orca Recovery Day is a day to take action as a community to restore habitat, reduce stormwater pollution, and educate the public about what they can do to help this amazing species of the Pacific Northwest.

What did an Orca Recovery Day with Pierce Conservation District look like?

For Orca Recovery Day 2023, Pierce Conservation District hosted 3 different restoration work parties throughout Pierce County. Our staff also travelled to other amazing Orca Recovery Day events hosted in Pierce County, some of which included Green Tacoma Day and a Fun Run!

In the morning of a beautiful foggy fall day, the habitat team of Pierce Conservation District and 25 volunteers set up at South Prairie Creek to do some tree planting. All these people, including a girl scout troop, families, and even solo visitors, showed up to make sure this salmon bearing creek would have a variety of new trees growing. We planted a total of 283 trees in .57 acres of land. That’s almost half of a football field’s length! Some of the children volunteers awaited the eclipse with their colorful eclipse glasses, but unfortunately the fog blocked seeing it. Though we couldn’t see the eclipse, an orca miraculously made her way onto land for a quick visit and planted a tree herself!

Dana wears an inflatable orca suit and presents the planted tree!

Our executive director, Dana Coggon, dons an inflatable orca suit to plant a tree!

We hosted two other work parties on Orca Recovery Day; both of which focused on invasive blackberry removal from two different work areas. In total, the Silver Creek and Bradley Lake Park work parties had 19 volunteers and they restored 4902 square feet of land. You could park about 85 cars in that space.

Our Orca Recovery Day volunteers were superstars! 44 total passionate Pierce County residents showed up on Saturday Pierce Conservation District hosted events to restore habitat that indirectly benefits Southern Resident Orcas. We wouldn’t have been able to do this boots on the ground restoration work without their help.

A picture of many volunteers trying to stack a tall tower of plant pots

A group of the South Prairie Creek Volunteers tries to stack a tall tower of tree pots!

How the work we did indirectly helps orcas

While we don’t live directly by Southern Resident Orcas, the restoration work we do indirectly benefits them. Improving the habitat of our many Pierce County salmon bearing streams ensures that as the main food source of orcas, salmon will survive their long trek to the sea.

Trees are a vital part of salmon habitat. They have many roles near salmon bearing streams. The tree roots can help filter out harmful chemicals from stormwater, preventing it from reaching the stream. Their roots also sometimes poke out from or over a streambank, providing habitat for small salmon to hide from predators or a shaded, cool area to relax in. The tree leaves and branches also contribute to shading and cooling the stream water. 

Trees are also the source of Large Woody Debris; a powerful tool in salmon habitat creation! When trees fall into a stream, by themselves they create slower, cool pools for salmon to relax in. If fallen trees or debris combine into a group of woody debris, then they have formed a log jam; creating deeper, cooler refuge with lots of nooks and crannies for salmon to enjoy. By planting trees, you help maintain one of the most important habitat sources for salmon, and indirectly send out better food for Southern Resident Orcas.

A long blonde haired woman poses with a thumbs up next to a freshly planted tree

Katie Nelson, the Farm and Habitat Specialist AmeriCorps Member, poses with her planted tree

Removing invasive species like blackberry also helps ensure good water quality for salmon bearing streams. Invasive species dominate spaces easily. This is because they can grow fast and easily suck up lots of water and nutrients that helpful native plants need. When invasive plants dominate the areas around a salmon's stream, it can be harder for important native plants and trees to fulfill their ecological roles. There can be less groundwater input for streams, less nutrients entering the stream's system, less healthy plants to contribute to refuge or water cooling, in addition to other negative impacts. When you remove invasive species, you ensure the water quality of nearby salmon bearing streams remains as high as possible!

A blonde furred dog stands in front of a waste pile of invasive plants from a work party

Norm the dog boldly goes where no dog has gone before: 
in front of the Silver Creek work party's invasive waste pile.

4 simple ways we can help orcas

1. Attend restoration work parties near salmon bearing creeks. You can check out Pierce Conservation District’s restoration work party opportunities on our website’s calendar.

2. When visiting a salmon bearing stream or the beach, remember to pick up your trash and your dog’s poop. Leaving behind plastics in salmon habitat and near the ocean can be harmful. Dog poop contains an excess of nutrients that can drain our freshwater streams of the oxygen that salmon need. It can also have harmful bacteria or parasites! 

3. Plant native plants and get rid of invasives. Our native plant sale and website becomes active on November 1st! Follow @piercecountyharvest on Instagram and bookmark the website link.

4. Use public transportation, carpool, bike, or walk. The cars we drive have tires with a toxic chemical called 6-PPDQ. This highly toxic chemical ends up in our roads’ stormwater runoff and enters salmon bearing streams. To ensure orcas have access to delicious, healthy salmon, you could drive your car less often and use public transportation, carpool with others, bike, or walk when you can!

To learn more ways to protect orcas, visit betterground.org/ord/

Orca Recovery Day Recap Video

Missed the opportunity to get involved in Orca Recovery Day 2023? Participated but want to see yourself or other events? Check out this recap video!