Killing with Kindness: is whale watching in the Salish Sea killing the Southern Resident Killer Whales? : how the social representation of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales has a big incentive on locals’ actions to protect the pods

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: The fish-eating Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) live in the Salish Sea and have been listed as endangered by the U.S and Canada in early 2000s. Their population is still declining with only 72 individuals left in May 2020. Reasons for their endangerment go from toxins in the water to underwater disturbance and lack of prey, although the latter is favourited by scientists. The whale watch industry is being blamed by many because of the number of whale watching boats on the water and their physical proximity of the SRKW. This thesis is focusing on the inhabitants of the Salish Sea and their perception of the SRKW and the whale watch industry and how they are making sense of the situation. Through the use of the Social Representations’ theoretical framework, it is shown that mechanisms such as stories, anthropomorphization, scapegoating and psychological ownership are used by the interviewees to strengthen their social representation of the SRKW but also to take decisions or actions for the pods’ survival. The conclusion of this paper summarizes that the whale watch industry is unfairly scapegoated for its activity as it is not the only actor responsible for the SRKW’s endangerment and disappearance from the Salish Sea. Even more, the whale watch industry is one of the only actors involved in the pods’ survival to have made changes in its practice by creating voluntary guidelines which limit the speed and distance a boat can get around the SRKW. In order to save the endangered SRKW from extinction, most interviewees agree that the priority should be put on solutions to bring the pods’ favourite prey, the Chinook salmon, back in the Salish Sea.

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