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71-year-old on why she went on 17-day hunger strike to help starving orcas

(KIRO 7 photo)

For 17 days, Lanni Johnson was on a hunger strike in front of the Capitol, looking to call attention to the plight of the Northwest’s ailing orca population. The 71-year-old Snohomish resident joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss what compelled her to take such extreme actions.

“I came to realize that while the governor started the orca task force, and seemed to be doing a great deal to help them,” she said. “But when the orca task force came back with the decision to ban whale watching as the way to save the orcas, I knew they weren’t being serious, and I didn’t want people to be lulled into believing that because they were working on it, it was going to be OK. Because I could see that it wasn’t.”

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“So I needed to do something, and since they’re starving, I thought, ‘Well, maybe if I can show people what hunger looks like, they can understand what it means.'”

Johnson sat in front of the Washington State Capitol building each day with a sign reading, “Solidarity with starving Southern Resident Orcas.” Only subsisting on sips of water, the hunger strike made her very weak, and she found it difficult to do the most mundane tasks.

“It brought home to me, and I hope to other people, that these guys are hungry, and that when you’re hungry, it’s very difficult to do the most everyday things.”

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The orcas’ survival has captured the public’s attention of late. Seven killer whales died in 2017, reports KIRO 7. The last known sighting of J50, also known as Scarlet, was in September of last year, and many watched as J-35 carried around her dead calf.

Scientists believe a lack of chinook salmon is a major contributing factor. Johnson wants the four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River to be breached so more salmon can flow to the orcas.

“They (legislators) were working on some bills in this session that did get passed that were very good for the orcas, the salmon, and us,” she said. “But it will take years to see the benefit of those, and we don’t have years. The scientists tell us we have months.”

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