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SAVING THE PUGET SOUND KILLER WHALE

The charismatic killer whale, or orca, is the totem species of northwest Washington and coastal British Columbia, where its images adorn everything from coffee mugs to long-houses. This intelligent, social predator is known to form lasting social bonds — living in highly organized pods where everyone cares for the young, sick, or injured. But like many endangered species, these groups must learn how to navigate the complicated terrain of the 21st century and the dangers it presents.

The Center has used science and law to save the Puget Sound killer whale. We brought together a population ecologist, a toxicologist, and an endangered species activist to study the whales’ life history, habitat needs, threats, and population trends; we also enlisted a lawyer to review legal mandates for the protection of imperiled species. This diverse group produced an important population analysis, revealing that if current trends continue, the Puget Sound whale population will go extinct within 100 years.

Our science and legal team immediately set to work developing a citizen petition to list the Puget Sound whales under the Endangered Species Act. After this petition was filed with the Bush administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency determined that the whale population was in danger of extinction but that this was “not significant” — making the extraordinary claim that extinction is not meaningful. We took that to the courts, and, following a legal victory, the Service announced that it would protect the southern resident killer whale population in Puget Sound as an endangered species. With critical habitat designated the following year, we began developing a recovery plan to ensure the whales’ survival. In 2014, we even filed a petition to expand their creitical habitat protections to cover foraging grounds further down the coast from Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, in 2012, the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation and several other groups petitioned to remove the whales' protections, using the false claim that they didn't comprise a distinct population. The Fisheries Service has announced it will consider that petition.

In fact, these whales are distinct from all others—genetically unique, with a unique dialect and one of the only orca populations to feed extensively on salmon.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2014 petition to expand critical habitat
2006 critical habitat designation
2002 federal listing denial
2001 federal Endangered Species Act petition

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

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NATURAL HISTORY

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RELATED ISSUES
Oceans
Carnivore Conservation
The Endangered Species Act

DETRITUS
Download a killer whale ringtone for your cell phone
MAP: Proposed critical habitat for the Puget Sound killer whale

 

Contact: Brendan Cummings

Photo courtesy of Orca Spirit Gallery