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For Immediate Release, November 26, 2012

Contact:  Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344

Puget Sound's Endangered Orcas at Risk of Losing Federal Protection

Government Agrees to Consider Petition From Anti-environment Group

SEATTLE— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today it will consider a petition to remove Endangered Species Act protections for Puget Sound’s killer whales. The decision comes in response to a petition by Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group, based on a scientifically invalid argument that the Puget Sound’s “southern resident” killer whales are not a distinct population. The federal government has not made a determination about the merits of the petition, but has committed to reviewing the status of the orcas over the next year to decide whether delisting is warranted.

“It would be a tragedy to strip Washington’s most iconic species of protections. Only around 85 southern resident killer whales are left, and their Endangered Species Act listing is critical to the population’s recovery in Puget Sound,” said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Pacific Legal Foundation has been working to remove protections for a number of species that are endangered in the United States but also occur in other countries, including marbled murrelets, woodland caribou and now the southern resident orcas. The arguments made in Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition — that the orcas do not qualify for Endangered Species Act protection — have already been rejected by a federal court.

“Nothing has changed in the science to show that orcas are faring any better or are somehow suddenly undeserving of endangered species protections. Although the agency’s decision to consider the delisting petition is unfortunate, the species’ status is unlikely to change as a result of the agency’s review, and these irreplaceable killer whales will almost certainly keep their protections,” said Uhlemann.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, southern resident orcas were protected as an endangered species in 2005 based on numerous factors making their population distinct. Theirs is one of the only orca populations to feed extensively on salmon; it has a unique dialect; and it is genetically unique. The orcas are severely threatened by pollution, past overcollection by the aquarium industry and habitat destruction, which also threatens the salmon that make up the orcas’ diet.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking information on the southern resident killer whales for consideration during its review of the orca’s status until January 28, 2013. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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