Whales Don't Eat
Why Should We?
by Alexandra Morton
As I scanned the horizon looking for whales, a strange steel structure slipped passed
my field of view. Closer scrutiny revealed floating pens used to raise salmon.
It was a fish farm. Good idea, I thought to myself, raise domestic salmon for us
and leave the wild ones for the whales. But I was wrong. In a few short years
the farms multiplied and the whales vanished. Wild salmon populations crashed
and the pristine waters of the Broughton Archipelago turned red. Another
ecosystem was dying.
a killer whale researcher. In 1984, I found the perfect place to study whales
year round – an intricate cluster of islands called the Broughton Archipelago,
on the west coast of Canada. I moved here fourteen years ago with my
three-year-old son to begin the fascinating process of understanding whale
communication. First I lived on a boat, then a floating house, and now a tiny
homestead surrounded by my vegetable gardens. My research broke new ground as I
spent my life watching orca as they slept, foraged and played.
Then in 1993, the salmon farms began broadcasting very loud sounds underwater
to repel seals. Although the sounds cause them pain, the seals continue
attacking the sluggish domestic fish. The orca, however, who do not consider
farm salmon edible, are repelled by the wall of noise. Acoustic harassment
devices are becoming popular with salmon farmers around the world, forcing
whales out of increasingly large areas of essential coastal habitat.
“Dispersing” whales violates the Canadian Fisheries Act, but I have been unable
to inspire the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to uphold its own Act.
My research ground to a halt when the whales departed.
Whales are not the only species impacted by salmon farms. Many B.C. fish
farmers are Norwegian and they insist on farming their own Atlantic salmon. This
movement of salmon between oceans is considered by many experts to be
“biological insanity”. DFO ex-director-general Pat Chamut has stated that the
spread of new diseases was “guaranteed” if Atlantic salmon were brought into
B.C. Unfortunately, he caved in to industry demands and approved huge imports of
Atlantic salmon anyway.
In 1991, the first diseased Atlantics arrived in the Broughton and their
oozing sores spread rapidly to coho returning to a nearby enhancement hatchery.
Disease-free during the previous ten years, the hatchery lost most of its
broodstock that fall to the disease, called furunculosis. Two years later, a
second batch of disease-infected Atlantics arrived. Although the fish were again
in pens, the bacteria spread 19 kilometres through prime wild chinook salmon
habitat, to infect another farm. This strain was resistant to all antibiotics
approved for salmon farming and so erythromycin was administered. Erythromycin
was previously banned for use in fish destined for human consumption. Nothing
was done to protect wild fish and that fall the chinook population crashed and
coho were dying again, this time infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
DFO insisted the wild and farm epidemics were completely unrelated.
"I am a reluctant witness to the crushing corporate footprint of fish
Prawn fishers came to me reporting that prawns vanished near salmon farms.The
sea floor beneath salmon farms becomes heaped with rotting faeces, uneaten food,
chemicals, antibiotics and toxic anti-foulant paint. This massive, rotting mound
consumes all available oxygen, creating an anaerobic environment where nothing
can survive, except antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Alarmed by the apparent impact of the farms, I sent out 9,000 pages of
letters to government, scientists, media, fishers and others, trying to inspire
someone to bring these farms under control, but I was ignored. In 1994 we saw
our first toxic algae bloom as the waste pouring out of the farms fed a deadly
organism called Heterosigma. No one dared get wet as the crimson stain spread.
While Japanese research reports toxic blooms are common near fish farms, DFO
said the bloom was unrelated to the exponential increase in farm sites.
While most fish farm impact is underwater, the gunfire of farmers killing
seals, sea lions, otters, herons, and even porpoise worries visitors and residents alike. They are afraid of being shot. Firing high powered rifles over
the water is outlawed because bullets skip unimpeded for long distances, however
an exception has been made for this industry.
Who are these farmers and why are they allowed to defy Canadian laws and
threaten human health? They are multinational corporations such as Weston Foods
and Stolt-Nielsen, a chemical tanker corporation. The top four companies report
annual sales of over $1 billion, of which salmon farming is only a small
percentage. Stolt reported a loss of $12.8 million on their sea farms in 1994,
but still managed a profit of over $7 million that year.
"Learn from the whales: Farm salmon is not food."
I am a reluctant witness to the crushing corporate footprint. This
archipelago is dying beneath a phantom organism so large that most of its weight
is supported half a planet away. In Nature, life exists within ecosystems, but
the big corporations have escaped this essential limit to growth. They are
unaffected when one natural system collapses, as they are feeding off several
simultaneously. These ecosystems form a continuous fabric of life over the
Massive food production techniques can have deadly consequences. Antibiotics
used extensively to farm salmon, stimulate evolution of uncontrollable
“superbugs”. Farm salmon are fed animal by-products from organisms they do not
eat, such as chickens, even though “mad-cow disease” made clear the deadly
consequences of reorganizing the food chain. Farm salmon flesh is grey and must
be chemically colored to fool us into believing we are eating a real salmon.
Pesticides, hormones, vaccines, toxic net paints and other chemicals are all
used to produce salmon in violation of natural laws. Additionally, it takes four
pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farm fish, a doomed equation for a
planet facing food shortages.
What is the answer? Eat wild salmon. Salmon farming is a corporate darling
here in the Pacific Northwest. If farm fish can replace wild fish in the market,
wild salmon habitat will be auctioned off. Wild salmon need more than
politicians can afford to give them. They require functioning ecosystems – the
same ones the wealthiest powers on earth are hungrily vying for. Learn from the
whales: Farm salmon is not food.
Alexandra Morton is a whale researcher
based in Simoom Sound, B.C. You can visit her
website, read more about
her activism work, and learn how to participate in saving wild salmon and
fighting fish farming. You can also read a recent excerpt from an interview with her
by author and broadcaster Silver Donald Cameron.
This article was
published in 1997 in Natural Life Magazine.