FAQ: A primer on the Pacific Northwest’s critically endangered killer whales ǀ Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times
COMPROMISED WOMBS empathetic grief & ubiquitous poison
"They are starving...
supplies of the salmon that they need for life endangered by over-fishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, which includes the dams on the rivers which critically impact the lives of the salmon…
75% of newborn orcas in the Southern Resident population in the last 20 years have not survived, and in the last three years, 100% of the orcas’ pregnancies have failed to produce viable calves."
Nancy Windheart in An Orca Mother Grieves
“Some of us look to the future and can’t imagine bringing children into such a hot, troubled world. For some of us, exposure to the fossil fuel industry has already jeopardized our health, or the health of our children. Parenthood has galvanized many of us towards greater action. For most of us, the threats to our reproductive freedom have been radicalizing. The climate impacts we see are unfolding during a time of increasing restrictions on reproductive self-determination and access to healthcare.”
CONCEIVABLE FUTURE ǀ Mission
“Using globally available data, the authors found high concentrations of PCBs within killer whale tissues. These are likely to precipitate declines across killer whale populations, particularly those that feed at high trophic levels and are the closest to industrialized areas.”
‘PCB—still a problem’ ǀ Science
“…even in the absence of any other threats, PCBs alone will probably cause the collapse or severe decline of 10 out of the 19 orca populations they studied within the next century— the southern residents included”
Ed yong in The Lingering Curse That’s Killing Killer Whales: Long-banned pollutants called PCBs could wipe out many orca groups within the next century ǀ The Atlantic
“In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences reported that children and especially infants in the womb are profoundly different from adults in how they are harmed by exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. … Exposure to even low levels of toxic chemicals during pregnancy and in the first years after birth can damage children’s brains and other developing organs, leading to increased risk of learning disabilities, A.D.H.D., dyslexia, autism and breathing and reproductive problems. Laws and regulations aimed at protecting adult health do not protect children.”
Philip J. Landrigan and Lynn R. Goldman in Bad Move That Could End Up Exposing Kids to Chemicals ǀ @NYT Opinion
“By impairing children's health, ability to learn, and potential to contribute to society, pollution and climate change cause children to become less resilient and the communities they live in to become less equitable.“
Perera F , Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health via PubMed
“75% of chronic diseases today are related to toxins in the food or nutritionally deficient food.
We can solve the health problems, the climate problem, the SDGs, every bit of it can be met by putting women at the center of the solution.”
Vandana Shiva in AGAINST THE GRAIN | Mothers of Invention
In support of mending torn bonds and bridging false divides, the core RIGHTWORK character profile is a sweeping glance at severed or strained connections and consequences thereof, including neglected needs, poisoned bodies, infertility, forced displacement, extermination, and violent unrest.
The character profile includes a short poetic film and supporting web content. The film stories MISCARRIAGE, a poem written by Megan Hollingsworth spring 2015 during a month’s creative witness with Pacific ocean, whale, and the mothering culture.
MISCARRIAGE has been edited three times since 2015 accounting for no new successful births and several deaths among Southern Resident orca. The most recent Scarlet (J50), a three-year-old female considered a member of the baby boom in 2015/2016, declared missing September 13, 2018.
orca and human mothers alike
As mammals, female orcas and humans have some things in common. Including a neocortex in their brains that enables language and metacognition (thinking about thinking) connected to wombs for gestating and breasts for feeding their babes.
These mothers enjoy a capacity for reason that is tethered to their senses. They consciously experience pleasure and pain. This means that they witness their pleasure and pain as part of a meaning and course of action making process.
Not only do orcas and humans experience grief, they are aware of their grief and the reasons for their grief. And can choose how the grief is expressed along with any other appropriate action in response to loss.
This awareness guides conception and birth among humans and whales as it does elephant among others. If not consciously, these mothers will at least subconsciously avoid conception and/or live birth in unfavorable conditions. Either way, the mother’s decision depends on both their access to relevant information and freedom of choice.
empathetic grief - complicated, conflicted, real
As we grieve Scarlet’s hunger and early death after witnessing Tahlequaha, a Southern Resident orca mother who carried her dead baby for seventeen days summer 2018, we consider the root of their pain and suffering in the treatment of human mothers, many who endure equal if not greater social neglect.
Complicated and conflicted are gentle words for empathetic grief with critically endangered orca who experience failed pregnancies and hunger when the endangerment is largely brought by ignorance and violent competition among humans in a socioeconomic system beholden to paternal lineage that yet neglects human mothers and children based on skin color, gender identity, financial, and familial circumstances.
Lightly, the human mother’s empathetic grief with orca mothers is complicated and conflicted. And it’s real because human mothers share the losses and abuses, including lack of information and other barriers that prevent them from avoiding harms and choosing wisely to the best of their ability.
Like Tahlequaha, human mothers suffer social neglect and the associated distress complicated by a chemical burden that contributes to cancers, cognitive impairment, mood disorders, and reproductive failure. A chemical burden of which orcas may be totally unaware and of which humans are largely uninformed.
These insults, which mothers may protect themselves from more or less, are ubiquitous - inescapable. Today’s cleanest diet, most breathable air, and most drinkable water tainted with harmful physical and psychological byproducts of mineral extraction, mass production, and global exchange.
And the stress and exposure to pollution, as access to healthy food, is unequal for human mothers and orca mothers.
Mothers who endure chronic nutritional stress brought by barriers to healthy food are simply less tolerant of the ubiquitous chemical burden while often experiencing greater chemical exposure in the workplace as in the home.
ubiquitous poison unequal exposure & stress
Existential threats and severe economic strain compounded, many human mothers are too strapped, hurt, and ill to focus on anything but their own and/or their child’s welfare and healing. Many are the homeless and the refugees focused on the immediate concern of securing basic needs. Many are the utterly dependent on compassion and unadulterated generosity.
In light of systemic violence dictating where and how they can live and work, financially poor mothers, especially women of color, yet suffer the greatest chronic social stress and exposure to pollutants. Fear and ignorance can yield great disrespect from those paid to care for and protect them - their disease symptoms dismissed and their children restrained or killed whether they run or don't.
Many mothers are unable to move themselves and their children to safer ground when and if they are willing to suffer the consequence of extracting themselves from everything and everyone familiar.
Mothers pass their body burden to babes in the womb. And, endure an additional download of toxicants as most of the burden passes during lactation from tissues into the bloodstream and through the breast again to babes.
The chemical burden is also dumped into the bloodstream during periods of increased fat metabolism in response to nutritional stress. Which means that dieting to lose weight can do more harm than good unless carefully navigated.
This, the compounding of chemical burden and nutritional stress, is estimated to be the fundamental determinant of Southern Resident orca’s reproductive failure.
The harms are ubiquitous and, among humans and orcas, the degree of exposure varies according to one's circumstances and lineage. Just as humans living and working in healthier communities fair better than humans living in urban industrial centers bare of flora and fauna, northern residents fair much better than southern residents. Whereas northern residents enjoy ‘sanctuary’, southern residents suffer the costs of chronic noise pollution, greater chemical pollution, and less food. (Please see
So too the time and means to process the grief.
Unlike Tahlequah, human mothers’ grief goes largely disrespected, denied, and even punished. Human mothers are hardly allowed to grieve the deaths of their own children, leave alone children born to their sisters.
Human mothers are outcast, mocked and drugged for grieving miscarriages, still births, children lost to domestic violence, cancer, suicide, killings in schools and streets, famine, bombs, wildfires, extreme heat and storms. (A nod to fathers here. Yes, fathers grieve too. And the mother’s grief, as the mother’s love, is different. Mothers are literally one with the child for a time.)
The good news for everyone is that we’ve already seen the worst in one mother and child denied. We’ve seen the worst a thousand times in this one child then multiplied to the nth degree in the decision to use atomic bombs.
And recovering from the worst is realized in liberating the human mother’s devotion to all children. That devotion is not only possible. It’s the chord of joy and sorrow that holds everything together.
The opportunity of ubiquitous poisoning is in how the violation binds mothers together. An isolated mother is among the most emotionally and physically vulnerable individuals. Abuse of her person can create the greatest destructive power that lingers generations until the original wounds are healed. United with other mothers, she is possibly the most compassionate - fearlessly and fiercely loving - power.
READINGS / RECORDINGS
Ayurvedic Detoxification: How to Cleanse Safely via MAPI
An Evolutionary Roadmap for Belonging and Co-Liberation by Sonali Sangeeta Balajee via Othering & Belonging
A (M)otherworld is Possible | Sobonfu Somé via Gift Economy
Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status via AJPH
Pollution from Fossil-Fuel Combustion is the Leading Environmental Threat to Global Pediatric Health and Equity: Solutions Exist. via PubMed - NCBI
Hostile Waters: Orcas thrive in a land to the north. Why are Puget Sound's dying? | Lynda V. Mapes via The Seattle Times
Don’t Mourn, Organize: Power and Passion for Environmental Justice and Democracy via Bioneers
The gift and power of emotional courage | Susan David via TED
Growing 'ecological grief' is the mental health cost of climate change via CBC Radio
Dolphin Mirror Self-Recognition: the Science and the Ethics by Lori Marino via The Whale Sanctuary Project
Southern Resident vs Transient orca via SpringTide
Our BODHi Project - a collective space for people from various sectors and disciplines interested in belonging and coliberation to co-design and co-shape emerging innovations and strategies
Conceivable Future - a grassroots women-led network bringing awareness to the threat climate change poses to reproductive justice, and demanding an end to US fossil fuel subsidies