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When 48 West had the opportunity to adopt Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) as a cause marketing client, we thought “what a fun account”! However, it did not take long for us to realize our involvement with WDC was much more than helping the organization take action to save Flipper and Free Willy. We were about to go way below the surface and educate ourselves on a cause that has truly become more meaningful than we ever imagined.

We Jumped Into Action

WDC and 48 West immediately determined a cause marketing plan of action that would focus primarily on preventing the treasured Southern Resident orcas from sliding towards extinction. These orcas travel along the West coast from the Pacific Northwest all the way down to Laguna Beach, California. They are the only orca population listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the U.S. There are currently only 82 individuals remaining in the wild. But despite a decade of recovery efforts since their 2005 ESA listing, the Southern Residents have continued to lose members. Each time we celebrate the birth of a new calf to one of the pods, it is with mixed emotion as calf mortality is extremely high during the first year of life; up to 50 percent of all orca calves die.

Leading to their perilous status are the orcas finicky eating habits. Their main food source is Chinook salmon. Today, habitat loss and barriers to Chinook salmon migration have decimated that population by over 90%.

To bring the orca populations back up, we must also recover the wild Chinook populations upon which the whales depend for their survival

Strategic Partners Were the Keys to Success

As 48 West became engrossed in planning and strategy with WDC, it was clear that a unique new grassroots effort called the Orca Salmon Alliance (OSA) needed our help from a PR perspective. Recently formed to highlight the connection between these two endangered iconic species, OSA is comprised of ten international, national, regional, and local non-profit organizations, researchers and community action groups. OSA member groups include: Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Endangered Species Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Orca Network, Save Our wild Salmon, Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative, Washington Environmental Council and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

The OSA’s immediate purpose is to prevent the extinction of both of these endangered species by developing joint initiatives, educate the public about the threats facing the orcas and improving Chinook salmon runs to reverse the orcas’ decline. Along the west coast, wild Chinook salmon numbers have experienced significant declines over the last century due to hydroelectric dams, habitat degradation, poor hatchery practices, and over-fishing.

Intertwined Fates: The Orca Salmon Connection

Born of this high-profile alliance came “Intertwined Fates: The Orca Salmon Connection”, a one-night sold out event this past October 7th at the Seattle Aquarium hosted by the OSA. Distinguished authors, experts, and scientists came together to educate, network and speak with salmon and orca experts and representatives of these local and national organizations to learn more about what action is needed to protect and restore these two remarkable species. Through 48West’s extensive media expertise and outreach, several media outlets covered the event, including local TV stations as well as print and online.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding current orca captivity at marine parks worldwide, as well as the vital mission to increase their salmon food source, this issue has jumped to the forefront of current events with the release of movies like Blackfish, Damnation and most recently Breach.  Social media campaigns like #EmptyTheTanks #CaptivityKILLS, #FreeTheRivers and #DamRemoval have also received much attention to helping the cause move forward.

If we don’t see the Southern Residents and Chinook salmon populations start to grow soon, we may lose them forever. The OSA, with the help of 48 West’s cause marketing expertise, is determined to make a difference in saving these two species.

Extinction is not an option.