Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 18, 2018

Contact: Abel Valdivia, (510) 844-7103,

Death Brings Endangered West Coast Orca Population to Lowest in Decades

Trump Administration Stalls Protections as Southern Resident Killer Whales Drop to 75

SEATTLE— This weekend’s announcement that another rare West Coast orca has died lends new urgency to a recent demand for the Trump administration to protect the whales’ habitat and stop ignoring this imminent threat of extinction.

On Saturday, the Center for Whale Research announced that L92, a Southern Resident killer whale also known as “Crewser,” was missing and presumed dead. That would bring this critically endangered population down to just 75 orcas, its lowest level since 1984.

On June 6, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal notice pressing the Trump administration to protect Southern Resident habitat off California, Oregon and Washington. The notice pointed out that the administration has unlawfully delayed critical habitat designations sought by the Center in a 2014 petition under the Endangered Species Act.

“Crewser’s sad death demonstrates how urgent it is for this administration to act. These beloved orcas can’t keep waiting for the protections they need and legally deserve,” said Abel Valdivia, an ocean scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than pushing unpopular offshore oil leases on the West Coast, the Trump administration needs to save these orcas from extinction. We shouldn’t have to go to court to force federal officials to do the right thing.”  

Endangered Southern Residents live along the Pacific Coast and are starving for lack of their preferred prey, spring chinook salmon. Other threats to these orcas’ survival include oil spills, water pollution and vessel noise.

Responding to the Center’s petition in 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service said it would expand habitat protections in 2017 to safeguard key foraging and migration areas off the West Coast. Yet the Trump administration has failed to act, despite broad public support.

“These incredible orcas are spiraling toward extinction as officials ignore the scientifically established need to protect their habitat,” Valdivia said. “The clock is ticking, and it’s going to be on Trump’s watch that Southern Residents pass the point of no return.”

While spending their summers in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, areas protected as critical habitat in 2006, these killer whales travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, 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 Center’s June 6 notice, which typically precedes the filing of a lawsuit, outlines how the Fisheries Service’s failure to act on the Center’s 2014 petition violates federal law. The letter asks the agency to propose habitat protections by August 6.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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