Olympia, WA – Today the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to maintain killer whales on the state’s Endangered Species List. This vote follows the recommendation of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists who prepared a detailed review of the status of Washington’s southern resident killer whales. Oceana commends the Commission for its decision given the dire situation. Only eighty-three killer whales remain in the southern resident population.
“Today’s decision underscores the imperiled status of southern resident killer whales and the urgent need for action to aid their recovery,” said Erin Kincaid, Pacific Marine Scientist for Oceana.
Killer whales —also called orcas—are defining figures in the Pacific Northwest’s culture, ecosystem, and economy. Three major populations of killer whales occur off Washington. West Coast transient and offshore killer whale populations appear to be either stable or increasing, whereas the southern resident killer whale population remains seriously low and the risk of extinction remains high, despite being listed as endangered since 2004. Southern resident killer whales spend summer months in the Puget Sound area and in winter months they are known to feed off the outer coast of Washington, Oregon and California. Up to 90 percent of the southern resident killer whale diet is Chinook salmon and many Chinook salmon populations in the Northwest are also threatened or endangered.
“In order to recover these endangered killer whales, we need to recover wild Chinook salmon populations. That means comprehensive action, including dam removal on the lower Snake River necessary to quickly restore struggling salmon populations on which these killer whales depend,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist at Oceana.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is also conducting a five-year review for the southern resident killer whale population and is expected to decide in coming months whether to keep these iconic whales on the federal Endangered Species List. NMFS recently included the southern resident population of killer whales in its report Species in the Spotlight, highlighting eight species nationwide facing the greatest risk of extinction.