71-year-old goes on 17-day hunger strike to save starving orcas

VIDEO: 71-year-old goes on 17-day hunger strike to save starving orcas

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A 71-year-old Snohomish woman is on a hunger strike to raise awareness about starving orcas in Puget Sound.

Thursday marks day 11 of Lanni Johnson’s 17-day fast and she’s starting to feel weak.

“My body says, what are you doing?” Johnson said.

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Johnson said it’s worth it. She’s raising awareness about the dwindling orca population with her friend, Phil Myers, who’s dressed in an orca costume. The two have been protesting at the Washington State Capitol since April 1.

Puget Sound’s orca numbers are plummeting and have hit a 30-year low of just 74 animals.

“It makes me cry, you know, it’s that upsetting,” Johnson said.

Seven killer whales died in 2017. Last year, we lost J-50 and the world watched for weeks as J-35 carried around her dead calf, which inspired Johnson to fast.

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“I chose 17 days to emulate Tahlequah, who carried her dead baby for 17 days last summer,” she said.

According to experts, there’s a lack of chinook salmon, the orcas’ primary food source. The state’s taking steps, but Johnson said they’re taking too long.

“The Orca Task Force and Governor Inslee are doing a great deal of work, but all of their work will result in needed improvements years from now. We don’t have years,” she said.

Johnson wants to breach four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River to get more salmon to the starving whales.

“We’ll lose them if we don’t breach the dams,” she said.

Johnson’s strike is sparking conversation. She hopes 17 days without food and nothing but sips of water sends a message to lawmakers and leads to change.

“I don’t know if it’ll be enough, but I can say I did everything I could,” she said.

Johnson plans to protest every weekday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. through April 17.