For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308,

Puget Sound’s Endangered Orcas Will Keep Federal Protections

Feds Reject Bid by Property-rights Group to Strip Killer Whales’ Legal Protection

SEATTLE - The National Marine Fisheries Service declined today to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Puget Sound’s killer whales. The decision came in response to a petition by Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group, based on a scientifically invalid argument that the Sound’s “southern resident” killer whales are not a distinct population. The federal government conducted a year-long review of the status and eligibility of the orcas for Endangered Species Act protection and determined that delisting is not warranted.

“It’s a huge relief that orcas will stay protected. Only about 85 southern resident killer whales are left, and their Endangered Species Act listing is critical to the population’s recovery in Puget Sound,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the 2001 petition that first gained federal protection for the animals in 2005.

Today’s decision rejected the Pacific Legal Foundation’s arguments that Puget Sound’s orca population does not quality for Endangered Species Act protection; instead the Fisheries Service affirmed that this population is unique, with new science confirming that Puget Sound’s orcas are distinct and deserve protection. The Fisheries Service also concluded that threats to the survival of the killer whales continue and they need to retain their endangered status.

“Killer whales are a symbol of the wild and beautiful Pacific Northwest. Protecting these orcas is protecting our natural heritage, and it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to take away their safety net and make them vulnerable to extinction,” said Sakashita.

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.


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