Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 6, 2016

Contact:  Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 844-7108,
Kimiko Martinez, (310) 434-2344,
Colleen Weiler, (810) 813-1653,
Kathleen Cogan, (281) 615-2495,

Immediate Habitat Protection Sought for Killer Whales Along West Coast

100,000 Sign Petition Seeking Critical Habitat Protections Beyond Puget Sound

SEATTLE— Conservation groups and more than 100,000 people today called on the Obama administration to immediately expand protected critical habitat for Southern Resident killer whales along the West Coast. The population remains critically endangered with just 83 individuals left.

The National Marine Fisheries Service last year announced plans to expand orcas’ habitat protections to 9,000 miles along the West Coast (some 2,500 miles in Washington’s Puget Sound and Salish Sea are already protected). The new habitat designation would protect key foraging and migration areas for the whales off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. However, the agency said it wouldn’t make that decision until the end of 2017, with final implementation not until at least 2018.

Today the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation submitted to the Fisheries Service more 105,947 petitions calling for quicker action to protect these endangered marine mammals.

“The evidence is clear these killer whales need more protection to avoid spiraling toward extinction. The Fisheries Service has the data it needs to make this decision now and it should,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center. “Scientists and the general public both say waiting to take action could have disastrous consequences.”  

Responding to an Endangered Species Act petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the Fisheries Service determined in 2005 that Southern Residents faced extinction and warranted protection. While spending their summers in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, where they are popular with tourists and local residents, these orcas travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, regularly congregating near coastal rivers to feed on migrating salmon. The Center petitioned in 2014 to protect areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California as critical habitat (see map).

“The whales need year-round protection,” said Giulia Good Stefani, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We know these last 83 whales — each one has unique markings, a name, and place they fit in the pod hierarchy — and we know they spend the spring and winter months searching for salmon off the coast. Protection of the whale’s winter range is years overdue.”

The group Whale and Dolphin Conservation, with support from the Center and the Endangered Species Coalition, this year led a public education campaign (#MaydayMonday) about the Southern Residents that generated more 100,000 people signing online petitions to better protect them.

“People around the world are invested in the future of these orcas and want to see them protected. Losing the Southern Residents would not only impact their immediate ecosystem, it would be the loss of a well-loved group of orcas known across the globe,” said Colleen Weiler, WDC’s Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation.

“It’s time for the NMFS to take action to protect the vital habitat that these orcas need for hunting and mating,” said Kathleen Cogan, California field representative with the Endangered Species Coalition.

Human activities in and near coastal waters threaten these killer whales by reducing salmon numbers, generating toxic pollution and increasing ocean noise, which disrupts the orcas’ ability to communicate and locate prey. Critical habitat designations prevent the federal government from undertaking or approving activities that reduce an area’s ability to support an endangered species. Studies show that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Endangered Species Coalition is a national network of conservation, scientific, education, religious, sporting, outdoor recreation, business, and community organizations, and more than 150,000 individual activists and supporters. We work to safeguard and strengthen the Endangered Species Act, a law that enables every citizen to act on behalf of threatened and endangered wildlife — animals, fish, plants, and insects — and the wild places they call home.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) works to safeguard the earth — its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins, and their habitats.  Our goal is to create a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free.

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