Since 2007, Jenny Atkinson has worked at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. As the Executive Director, she works to help a struggling species survive through education and outreach projects aimed at helping “educate, motivate, and inspire people to be stewards for orcas.” The Whale Museum first opened to the public in 1979 when researchers at the museum put together exhibits that translated their scientific work and findings for the general public.
While discussing orcas, she speaks on the vast difference between meeting whales when in captivity and meeting them in the wild. She feels that the Whales have a centering and grounding feeling that makes you feel at home when you see them. Jenny views her work as being a voice for the voiceless. She saw this as a natural move from her previous work at the First Amendment Center. The fact that decisions we make drastically impact the lives of these animals who cannot speak up for themselves is the driving force behind her work.
A key component of Southern Resident orcas’ livelihood in the area is not simply a matter of starvation, but one of deteriorated health as a result of several factors. She explains that the primary impacts on whales are vessels (presence, noise, and emissions), toxic waters, and decreased prey. The combination of these factors results in declining health, leading to higher chances of dying. In response to arguments that the whales are doing just fine as a result of pregnant whales, she says that researchers note “you always have pregnant whales in the southern resident community, the question is if it’s a successful pregnancy that yields a calf and if that calf survives.” She made clear that the calves’ ability to survive directly relies on their mother’s ability to sustain the energy it costs to raise and produce milk for them.
Finally, Jenny underscores the necessity of action. Stating that we must all take action each and every day in order to help these orcas thrive, whether it be more conscientious consumption habits decreasing waste or reaching out to our public officials and telling them how important this issue is. All of us can use our voices to speak up for the whales.