Fisheries Meeting Aims to Ensure Enough West Coast Salmon for Starving Orcas
Lawsuit Prompts Consultation to Save Southern Resident Killer Whales
PORTLAND, Ore.— Federal, state and tribal fishery managers and experts on critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales begin meeting today to discuss how West Coast salmon fishing is limiting availability of the starving orcas’ main food source.
The National Marine Fisheries Service recommended the working group after being put on notice in December that its outdated analysis violated the Endangered Species Act as this West Coast orca population dropped to 75.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup holds its first meetings today and tomorrow in Portland, Ore. The Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Fish Conservancy sent the notice letter and then filed a lawsuit in April, shortly after the Fisheries Service announced plans to reinitiate the necessary consultation on salmon fisheries’ impacts on these endangered orcas. That lawsuit is pending.
“These orcas need more salmon to survive, so we’re glad fishery managers are examining how they might help Southern Residents recover,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center. “West Coast orcas have reached a critical point requiring bold actions to safeguard their survival. We hope that ensuring they have enough to eat will pull these graceful animals back from the brink.”
The population of Southern Resident killer whales reached a 34-year low in 2018 after the loss of a newborn calf and a young female orca. Researchers have been closely watching two other ailing Southern resident killer whales that appear to be malnourished. Starving orcas show signs of “peanut head,” where an individual has lost so much body fat that a depression appears behind its blowhole.
In addition to a lack of prey availability, the orcas are harmed by boat traffic and noise, which disrupts their feeding and communications, and water pollution. Another body created by the Washington Legislature, the Orca Task Force Prey Working Group, also met this week to discuss ideas for increasing salmon availability, including removing dams to restore wild salmon runs.
In response to another Center lawsuit, the Trump administration announced last month that by October it will propose expanding critical habitat protections to cover the Southern Residents’ full West Coast range. The Center launched another lawsuit in August 2018 to establish a “whale protection zone” to shield orcas from boat noise and disturbance in the heart of their Puget Sound habitat.