Social scientists analyze public reactions to orca crisis

Social scientists at Oregon State University have been analyzing a trove of more than 17,000 public comments sent to the Washington state governor's southern resident orca recovery task force. The researchers have added the comments to a keyword database to look at public emotions and perceptions around the issue of orca declines.

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Image from report cover

The orca task force was created in March 2018 after media reports of sick and dying whales prompted widespread public concern and led to a groundswell of activity to try to save the endangered whales from extinction. Since that time, Puget Sound's southern resident orca population has continued to drop to 72 whales, the lowest number since initial counts of the population were conducted in 1976.

The study from Oregon State University's Human Dimensions Lab analyzed public response data for both prominent emotions and potential connections people had to 'Quality of Life Vital Signs' established by the state's Puget Sound Partnership.

"The most commonly represented emotions were trust, fear, sadness and anticipation," reads a summary of the research. "Based on these findings, we can take steps to address the fear and sadness evoked by the decline of Southern Resident orcas and consider how to build trust and positive perceptions of governance in the proposed restoration strategies."

Download the report summary