Wed, Sep 11, 8:09 AM
Producer, The Early Edition
700 Hamilton Street
Hello Ms. Nicholls,
Thank you for writing to CBC and for listening to our podcast Killers: J pod on the brink. I'm the producer of the podcast and I'm sorry that you found our content unbalanced. We strived to incorporate as many voices and as much research as possible in order to give an accurate portrayal of the state and story of the Southern Residents. I've read through your concerns and would like to respond to them.
We find the title misleading. Yes, Orcas kill their prey for food because they are predators. All carnivores kill. We would not call a person who eats meat a killer. Orcas do not kill senselessly. Although they are called killer whales, it seems to us that it is akin to clickbait to entitle the podcasts "Killers", and does not encourage people to sympathize with their plight.
The title Killers is meant to be a play on words - as the podcast explores the human-caused changes that are killing orcas. In episode 1, and online, we unpack the name Killer Whales and reveal how many names for orcas in fact invoke death and the hunt. In no way were we trying to make these whales out as unsympathetic; in fact, by telling the stories of family connection and focusing on individual whales, we invite the audience to sympathize with these animals deeply.
Episode 1 -Neither Mark Mollison nor John Ford can bring themselves to assign “human” emotions to orcas. Jane Goodall, who spent years studying animals in the wild, offers informed insights into what she accepts as emotions revealed in the interactions of her subjects. She is clear in her view that the reduction of animal feelings to merely “drives” or “Instincts” is wrong. Mark Mollison speaks of orcas having "strong drives" to carry things around, noting that they have been seen to carry around turtles. He goes on to make the egregious error of conflating this spontaneous play behaviour with the grief behaviour shown when mother J35 carried her dead calf for 17 days and 1000 miles. In this way he trivializes the mother orca’s grief.
In fact it is John Ford who speaks about the "strong drives" and carrying turtles. John Ford is a respected whale researcher with 40 years experience, and we deem his analysis credible. However, there are several guests in our podcast that call the display grief or assign it a deeper message (Mark Malleson, Charlene Aleck, Jay Julius, even some of the reporters in the montage of news coverage)
Ads for the podcasts say that the cause of their decline is a mystery. It was mentioned that there are various possible causes for the decline of the orcas, among them ocean warming, noise, lack of food, toxins. The implication seemed to be that we need to find THE reason they are in decline. The conclusion should have been that these factors are acting cumulatively , and thus all should be remedied. Even if there is some uncertainty about the most important cause for the decline, the precautionary principle should prevail: mitigate all possible causes.
You're absolutely right - we decided to frame it as a mystery because there's much debate about how different factors contribute to the decline of SRKW, and how these factors work together. By spending 4 episodes untangling the various factors, we hope listeners are left with the understanding that there are several factors - decline in food, warming waters, pollutants, vessel noise, etc - contributing to their decline. We do discuss the cumulative impacts in episode 5, referencing the recent DFO report.
The series is called Killers: J Pod on the brink. This would lead listeners to suppose that the series would focus on the J pod resident population. Frequently in this episode there is reference to how well the transients are doing. Yes, they are doing well, but the resident population which the series is purportedly concerned with is facing extinction. This concern with the healthy transient population dilutes the message. Is this intentional?
The focus of the podcast is the SRKW population, and we tell it through the lens of J pod as our main characters. However, it's crucial to compare this population to other orca populations. Indeed, a big part of scientific research is understanding why SRKW are struggling in comparison to other orca populations.
There was a lot of time given to the protest by about a hundred sports fishermen. Thousands of protestors have filled the streets of Burnaby and Vancouver protesting to save the orcas and they are not mentioned.
The clips from the sports fishers protest are used to illustrate how politically challenging protections for SRKW can be. The podcast also includes clips from protesters against TMX, and several guests who would identify as advocates for SRKW.
The problems caused by the damage to the Columbia River (in theU.S) does not mean that there is nothing we can or should do in Canada. We need to focus on what we can do rather than point down south at what they are not doing. 80% of the salmon habitat in the Fraser River has been lost, together with many areas of wetlands which are critical habitat for young salmon. We need to begin remedying this and encouraging our southern neighbours to do likewise.
That's exactly why Ep 3 includes a lengthy section exploring changes to the Fraser River, as well as other threats to salmon here in BC.
There was no opportunity for rebuttal of the arguments offered by the whale watchers, who claim legitimacy by stating that they collect data and protect the whales by keeping other boats away. The problems they cause to whale communications is glossed over. Again, there is no opportunity for rebuttal by whale conservationists.
In fact, episode 5 includes this quote from Hussein Alidina of WWF Canada regarding whale watching:
"... And so it's not like these guys are having a break. You know they were getting followed extensively. So you know if you put that in the context of a population that's already stressed by not having enough food. And then you add this sort of disturbance and following around them you know there's some some some reports of whales being followed upwards of 18 19 hours a day at the height of the season. So it becomes a significant problem that is adding to what the whales are already facing."
We found this painful to listen to. The story of Moby Doll is horrible. The truth is they tortured her to death. It is stated that whether we like aquariums or not we must admit that we have learned the most about orcas from these aquariums. This is not true. Learning about orcas in captivity is like thinking you can learn about humans by watching an isolated human in a prison cell. This is why Dr. Leakey had researchers go into the wild to watch the chimps and mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. He knew that watching them in cages would not produce useful data. It is stated that we would not love killer whales if not for aquariums.. Not true. We love them because they are our neighbours, free and beautiful in the ocean. There are many creatures we humans develop affection for when we have seen them only on a screen. The logic that out of evil comes good does not work. Now that we know Orcas are social animals, we need to stop using them for entertainment. They are used this way simply because they make money, which is not an ethical justification for isolating social creatures in alien environments away from their family groups.
I agree that the story of Moby Doll, and accounts of whale capture, are disturbing to listen to. We intentionally laid out this dark history of our relationship with SRKW in order to ask listeners to confront how we've treated these animals. The claim that aquariums have enhanced our love for orcas does not go unchallenged. In fact, there are extensive quotes from the Lummi nation that protest capture and current captivity.
Whether whale watching helps or hurts the orcas is discussed: The problem is lack of fish, not the multi-million dollar whale watching industry. Why throw in that “multi-million dollar industry” phrase? Is this the “If it makes money it must be good” ploy? . The whale watching industry is clearly a part of the problem. If there are fewer salmon available, the whales need to locate them more efficiently with their sonar, which is severely hampered by boat noise. The whale watchers portray themselves as "sentinels" for the whales. They say they are the data collectors and nobody would know anything if it was not for the whale watchers. None of this is questioned, and it is patently false. There is also no mention of land-based whale-watching, which we and others are trying to encourage.
See above for my response about the whale watching industry. No, we do not mention multi-million dollar industry to justify it. However, we think it's important to note the industries and livelihoods affected by efforts to save SRKW. We also think it's important to note that whale watching is a powerful industry with some clout.
Johnathan Wilkinson, minister of fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard says the situation of the orcas is not that dire, the government havs put in significant measures and Canadians can be now be confident that the orcas will survive. In fact, the report by the NEB states that increased tanker traffic resulting from the Transmountain Pipeline will have a significant impact on the orcas.
In episode 2 we extensively outline what the NEB report says about the TMX pipeline, quoting from the reconsideration report at length. Minister Wilkinson tells us that his government is further mitigating the effects of the pipeline. We juxtapose his remarks with the most recent DFO report about the future of SRKW and I believe this is a balanced way to represent the future of SRKW - if we take major measures to mitigate the impacts on this population, they may still have a chance.
In conclusion, I hope you can appreciate that the huge resources, research and effort we've poured into this podcast is testament to how important we deem the SRKW population to be. However, we are journalistically obliged to present many perspectives of people who work with, and are affected by, the Southern Residents. We've also had push back from government and industry on some of the elements of this podcast, and I feel confident that we've made every effort to ensure balanced, fair and compelling reporting.
Producer, The Early Edition
700 Hamilton Street