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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2014
3:48 PM

Expanded Habitat Protection Sought for Endangered Killer Whales on West Coast

Declining Salmon Populations, Pollution, Ocean Noise Threaten Iconic Species Off Coasts of Washington, Oregon, California

SEATTLE - January 16 - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition today with the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect more critical habitat for the endangered Southern Resident population of killer whales. If successful the proposal would extend Endangered Species Act protection to the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

After several drastic declines, only 81 killer whales remain in the Southern Resident population.

“These whales somewhat miraculously survived multiple threats over the years, including deliberate shootings and live capture for marine theme parks,” said Sarah Uhlemann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The direct killings have stopped, but we can’t expect orcas to thrive once again if we don’t protect their critical habitat.”

In response to a petition from the Center and allies, the Fisheries Service determined in 2005 that Southern Residents are in danger of extinction. Although the agency has protected portions of the population’s summer habitat in the Puget Sound, important offshore habitat areas have recently been documented.

New research (including satellite tracking data from first half of 2013, shown in this map) reveals that the whales travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, regularly congregating near coastal rivers to feed on migrating salmon. The Center’s petition seeks to protect these areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California as critical habitat.

Human activities in and near coastal waters threaten these whales by reducing salmon numbers, generating toxic pollution and increasing ocean noise, which disrupts the orcas’ ability to communicate and locate prey.

“Killer whales are important to the identity and spirit of the Pacific Northwest, and beloved by people across the country,” said Uhlemann. “If this population of amazing, extremely intelligent animals is going to survive for future generations, we need to do more to protect their most important habitat.”

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 exhibit improving population trends than those without this additional protection.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.


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