In February, 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service singled out the Southern Resident Killer Whales as one of the eight species most at risk of extinction in their “Species in the Spotlight: Survive to Thrive” report to congress. The Southern Resident population is threatened primarily by lack of food due to declining chinook salmon runs; toxic pollution and other contaminants; climate change; noise and disturbance. The whale protection zone Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance is advocating for would give the population more quiet time for hunting, communications, and rest.

Recent Major Press

Skewed Sex Ratio of Young SRKWs. Researchers have begun looking into the skewed sex ratio of the young SRKWs- all but one of the calves born since 2014 has been male. Preliminary hypotheses speculate that toxins in the environment may be partially responsible for the low number of female calves – a situation that will inhibit the population’s reproductive capacity as these whales mature.   April 6, 2016

Toxins Cleanup Funding Declines. Washington State budget cuts threaten environmental cleanup efforts. Falling oil prices have led to lower tax revenue from oil sales, decreasing the amount of funds available to legislators for environmental cleanup efforts. Debate within the Washington legislature regarding the best use of funds- to cleanup old pollution or prevent new pollution- further complicates decision-making. March 8, 2016

Medications Harm Salmon. Researchers have found dozens of contaminants related to over- the-counter medications and personal care products in the tissues of juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. This contamination is the result of inadequately treated wastewater discharge. The substances recorded (collectively known as “Contaminants of Emerging Concern) included antibiotics, ibuprofen, DEET, estrogens, caffeine, and antihistamines. Most of the reported contaminants are little studied, and have no established levels of safety within the ecosystem. The impact of these contaminants on the salmon, as well as those species that prey on them (most especially the Southern Resident Killer Whales), is unknown and requires further study. February 26, 2016

Storm Runoff Carries Toxins to Salmon. Researchers have linked stormwater runoff – which carries oil, pesticides, and other toxins into urban streams and rivers – with the decline of the endangered Coho salmon. However, simple, inexpensive filtration systems may be able to remove these contaminants from stormwater before it reaches waterways. October 12, 2015

Oil in Marine Waters Harms Salmon. New research shows that low levels of crude oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill were harmful to embryonic salmon and herring, leading to decreased survival. Expose of fish embryos led to heart malformations and decreased swimming capacity, making fish more susceptible to predation and disease. This research has implications for the impact of small and large scale oil spills on fish populations in the Puget Sound, and the other species that rely on those fish for food. September 8, 2015

Oil Spill Risk Increases with Shipping Traffic. Increasing transport of oil in the Salish Sea increases the risk of oil spills that could threaten the survival of the southern resident killer whales. Numerous projects planned to increase transport of oil into Puget Sound could lead to tripling of oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea. June 18, 2015

Oil Spill Cleanup Kits Available. A partnership of organizations will be distributing over 1,000 small oil spill clean-up kits in an effort to curb pollution from recreational vessels in Puget Sound. Research shows that small oil spills from recreational boats and commercial fishing vessels made up 99% of reported spills over the past 15 years. The kits will be available during free vessel safety examinations being conducted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. July 24, 2015