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

November 15, 2005


CONTACT: Brent Plater, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-572-6989


Conservationists Hail Decision to Protect Killer Whales
Demand Congress Protect Endangered Species Act

The National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) today announced a final rule to protect Puget Sound’s Southern Resident killer whales under the federal Endangered Species Act, the nation’s strongest conservation law. The orcas declined by 20% over five years during the 1990s, and Endangered Species Act protection ensures that NMFS will have the world’s best conservation tools at its disposal as work begins to recover the whales from the brink of extinction.

“This is a victory for sound science, the killer whales, and the people of the Pacific Northwest,” said Brent Plater, author of the initial petition to protect the Southern Residents and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s decision comes nearly two years after a U.S. District Court found unlawful the Bush administration’s June 25, 2002 announcement that the killer whales are not significant enough to protect. The final rule differs from the proposed rule announced nearly one year ago by listing the Southern Residents as “endangered” rather than “threatened.” An “endangered” listing provides stronger, more immediate protections to the killer whales than a “threatened” listing.

“Southern Resident killer whales have been integral to the ecological, social, and economic well being of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years,” said Plater. “Providing the Southern Residents the protections of the Endangered Species Act ensures that we protect these whales for future generations.”

Today’s announcement also notes that one of the best ways to preserve killer whales is to protect the special places they call home. This is primarily done through the Endangered Species Act’s “critical habitat” protections, and NMFS’ announcement explains that “designating critical habitat is useful for the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales.” Yet the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would eliminate the protection of critical habitat altogether. “Peer reviewed studies have shown that species with critical habitat protected are twice as likely to be recovering as those that do not have critical habitat protected,” said Plater. “However, developers and the politicians they give money to are waging a misinformation campaign in an attempt to gut habitat protections from the Endangered Species Act. If these attempts succeed, the continued existence of the Southern Resident will be jeopardized.”

For more information, see Saving the Orcas of Puget Sound.


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