Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Letters Support Petition to List Southern Residents as “Endangered”; Urge Senators to Monitor NMFS and Express Support for ESA Listing

Contact: Brent Plater (510) 841-0812 or (415) 572-6989

More Information: Killer Whales, Letter sent to California Senators Boxer and Feinstein (pdf), Letter sent to Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell (pdf)

Nearly 10 months after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal administrative petition to list the Southern Resident killer whale as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), a coalition of independent killer whale scientists and researchers from around the world have asked the Senators to ensure that the Southern Residents receive protections under the ESA.

The Southern Resident population of killer whales was last seen in Monterey Bay on January 29, 2000. Historically the whales used the California coastline regularly during the winter months. However, because the Southern Resident population has plummeted, they are rarely seen within California waters today.

The scientists-some of whom have spent decades studying killer whales-urged the Senators to monitor the National Marine Fisheries Service ("marine agency") as the marine agency makes a determination on the listing petition, and asked the Senators to explain to the agency why listing the Southern Residents is consistent with Congress' intent in passing the ESA.

"Today the scientific community has reminded us all that the future of the Southern Residents is in our hands," said Brent Plater, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the petition. "The ESA is the only mechanism we have that can address all the threats that the Southern Residents currently face. Our hope is that the Senator's will take this message to the marine agency and ensure that the whales are protected while they still have a chance to recover."

The marine agency is currently reviewing the petition and is expected to issue a proposed rule to list the Southern Residents as "endangered" by May 1, 2002. However, since the petition was filed the marine agency has declined to protect the food supply for the Southern Residents on at least two separate occasions. With the Bush administration's palpable hostility to citizen participation, the deliberations may become a victim of Bush's overall goal: evisceration of the ESA. "Given the marine agencies limited budget and the Bush administration's lack of concern for extinction, the ESA listing is necessary to ensure that the Southern Residents become a priority in the marine agency's conservation agenda," said Plater. "The Southern Residents play such a significant role in the ecology, economy, and culture of the Pacific Northwest, we simply can't afford to let the Bush administration ignore their plight any longer."

The Pacific Northwest is home to three sympatric killer whale forms: The meat-eating Transients, the fish-eating Residents, and the recently discovered Offshores. The Residents are comprised of two distinct population segments: the Northern Residents and the Southern Residents. Each population shows markedly different physiological, morphological, and behavioral characteristics, and interactions between the populations have not been documented. The differences between the Residents and Transients are so great that some scientists have proposed that they are in fact different species.

A combination of PCB poisoning, declines in salmon (a favored orca prey), general ecosystem deterioration, growing whale watching pressure, and the lingering effects of many whales being captured for display in the 1960's and 70's has caused the population to plummet almost 20% since 1996. The threats also seem to be affecting the Southern Resident's social structure: one Southern Resident that was missing for over a year and presumed dead has been found, but without the company of his family members and in uncertain health. Because of the wide range of threats facing the Southern Residents, only protection under the ESA can effectively address all the threats and ensure the survival of the population. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws will be incapable of ensuring the survival of the Southern Residents.

The Southern Residents can be protected as a "species" under the ESA because they are both "discrete" and "significant" and therefore qualify as a distinct population segment of the species. Distinct population segments are afforded all the protections available under the ESA because they are important to the existence of the species as a whole. Photos and further information are available online at

Press Release
Letter sent to California Senators Boxer and Feinstein.
Letter sent to Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell.


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