Ocean Defenders Work to Secure Rights for the Southern Resident Killer Whales

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 30th, 2018

Photo Credit:  KNKX , Bellamy Pailthrop

Photo Credit: KNKX, Bellamy Pailthrop

Contacts: Michelle Bender (mbender@earthlaw.org, 509 218 9338)

                Elizabeth M Dunne (edunnelaw@gmail.com, (808) 554-1409)

New York, NY (August 21st, 2018)—On September 15th, Legal Rights for the Salish Sea is hosting an event in Gig Harbor, WA for the Salish Sea Day of Action. The event is free and will include a showing of the documentary “The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement” produced by Issac Goeckeritz, Hal Crimmel and María Valeria Berros with a panel discussion to follow. The event will discuss how rights of nature can save the Southern Resident Killer Whales and maintain the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem.

“This is a critical juncture for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Our current system has failed these charismatic species. We need to do more and we need to do more now to prevent their extinction.” Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at Earth Law Center

The Salish Sea stretches from the north end of the Strait of Georgia in Canada to the south end of the Puget Sound and west to include the Strait of Juan de Fuca. More than 8 million of us live in the communities surrounding the Salish Sea and many communities have “orca-based economies.” Whale watching in Washington State provides an estimated $65-$70 million annually.

However, salmon availability, noise and vessel traffic, and pollution have resulted in a population struggling for survival- only 75 are now left. This has led environmental and community groups to explore solutions outside the traditional system. Earth Law Center is collaborating with Legal Rights for the Salish Sea, Nonhuman Rights Project, a local community group, and building a coalition to gain legal rights for the Southern Residents.

“With the understanding that non-human inhabitants of the Earth, such as the southern resident orcas, are sentient beings comes the recognition that they, too, have rights. Not as “persons”, but in their own right as living beings with whom we co-exist. Recognizing that the southern resident orcas have enforceable rights in their own right is critical to their continued existence.” Elizabeth M. Dunne, Esq.

“The Southern Resident Killer Whales are unable to tell us what they need, or demand action to prevent their extinction. But we know, through years of research, what they need: more salmon, less vessel traffic, and healthy waters. Legal Rights for the Southern Residents makes it our legal responsibility to protect those rights and allows all community members to take the necessary actions to ensure the Southern Residents needs are met.” Michelle Bender

Learn how your community can be involved in the movement. The event will be held at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church, 10511 Peacock Hill Ave. Gig Harbor, WA. September 15th 7-9pm. The event is free. 

Both Michelle Bender and Elizabeth Dunne will be present to answer questions afterwards.


About the groups and panelists

Earth Law Center (www.earthlawcenter.org) works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This includes advancing the inherent rights of rivers through initiatives with local partners to secure rights recognition.

Legal Rights for the Salish Sea (LRSS- http://legalrightsforthesalishsea.org/) is a local community group based in Gig Harbor, WA working to bring legal rights of nature to the Southern Resident Killer Whales including the Salish Sea to protect her inhabitants and ecosystems.

Elizabeth M. Dunne, Esq. graduated from Emory Law School in 2000. She has worked for non-profits, law firms, and federal judges, and for the past several years has managed her own visionary law practice focused on advancing and defending the rights of local communities and ecosystems in partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (https://celdf.org/rights/rights-of-nature/). 

Michelle Bender is the Ocean Rights Manager at Earth Law Center, focusing on incorporating the rights of nature movement into ocean governance internationally, and has created the Earth Law Framework, a guideline for how to implement rights of nature with marine protected areas. She also serves on the Executive Committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and is a member of the IUCN's World Commission on Environmental Law. Having worked for organizations including NOAA, Friends of the Sea Otter and Animal Welfare Institute, she specializes in ocean and wildlife law. Michelle graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vermont Law School, where she earned a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy and holds a B.S. in Biology with a Marine Emphasis from Western Washington University.