The disappearance and presumed death of newborn baby orca L-120 left me and many other longtime Puget Sound residents heartbroken on Tuesday. The calf’s birth was a rare glimmer of good news as our region suffers from climate change and habitat depletion, and its death symbolized the end of that hope.
That said, the outpouring in the wake of the calf’s disappearance and probable death—the tweets, the blog posts, the news articles—far outweighed the attention given to other species that are dying out right under our noses.
They may be less cute and cuddly (less Sierra-Club-promotional-Christmas-card-friendly, if you will), but other keystone species, like seagrasses and shellfish, deserve just as much attention as orcas. These small, abundant organisms influence the ecosystem from the bottom up, providing habitats for other organisms and buffering tidal zones. Oysters are extremely effective at filtering seawater, particularly in the event of algal blooms, which are exacerbated by pollutive fertilizer runoff.
Some citizen science movements like Seagrass Watch have helped with research and awareness of these threatened species, but there continues to be widespread disinterest from both politicians and the general public when it comes to protecting the ocean’s less photogenic denizens.
I’ll continue to mourn little L-120, and even more so, what its death symbolizes. But I’ll also have my mind on the thousands of fish that float to the surface of Hood Canal year after year, from perch to octopi to sculpins, all dead from oxygen depletion.
Poor, ugly little sculpins have no Shamu out there to raise their public image. Oysters don’t make good stuffed animals, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a school with a seagrass mascot. But without these crucial species, the Puget Sound ecosystem could collapse. L-120’s death shouldn’t just leave us misty-eyed, it should incite action—for all threatened marine species, not just the cute ones.
Caroline Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief