Victory! Endangered Orcas Will Get Critical Habitat Protected

Conservationists are celebrating another big step towards protecting a beloved family of endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest with an announcement from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that critical habitat will be protected for them along the West Coast.

These unique orcas, who are otherwise known as the southern resident killer whales, live in three distinct pods (J,K and L), but despite their popularity, they’re also highly endangered.

According to the NMFS, there were once around 200 in the late 1800s, but by 1971, their population had fallen to about 67 individuals, due largely to live captures for public display.

Even though they were protected as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, their numbers haven’t grown much since then and they’ve continued to experience devastating losses. Today, there are only 75 left in existence – the lowest their numbers have been in 30 years.

While they spend the summer months in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, they migrate to open ocean and down the coast during the winter.

While these orcas continue to face a host of threats ranging from noise to pollution, one of their biggest problems now is a lack of their main food source – Chinook salmon.

In an effort to help ensure their future survival and protect them from the threats they face throughout their entire range, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the NMFS back in 2014 to expand critical habitat for them along the West Coast, and later sued to get it designated.

Part of the problem before was that there wasn’t much information about where they traveled during the winter, but questions about where they go have been largely answered and the Center argued in its petition that critical habitat needs to be expanded to reflect that knowledge and needs to include coastal waters off of Washington, Oregon and California where they forage and travel during the winter. Specifically, new protected habitat under the proposal would extend from Cape Flattery, Wash., to Point Reyes, Calif.

Now, they’re celebrating a major victory with the NMFS committing to proposing a rule that would expand critical habitat for them.

“The Trump administration has to move forward with giving these critically endangered orcas the protections they need and deserve,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the director of the Center’s oceans program. “These magnificent killer whales are in real trouble. Protecting their feeding grounds is more important than ever, especially with the birth of a new baby.”

While the losses they’ve experienced over the past few years have been heartbreaking to watch, a new calf named Lucky who arrived in January, who is also the first to survive since 2015, has brought hope they may yet make a comeback with help.

Earlier this month Lucky was spotted in Monterey Bay off the coast of central California with members of the L pod, proving their range is expansive and highlighting the urgent need to ensure it’s fully protected.

Although more still needs to be done to ensure we’re doing all we can to help them survive, the new critical habitat designation is a big step in the right direction. As the Center noted in a statement, it’s found that animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to recover than those without it.

“This legal victory might save the day for these endangered orcas,” Sakashita added. “Keeping the oceans healthy for orcas isn’t only a legal mandate, but a moral one. We owe that to our children and the next generation of orcas.”

For more on how to help, check out organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, Orca Network, Center for Whale Research, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative.

You can also show your support for these orcas by signing and sharing the petitio urging officials to breach the four lower Snake River dams to help restore salmon runs.

Photo credit: Getty Images

61 comments

Jennifer H
Jennifer H8 days ago

It's about time. They also need a cleaner ocean to swim in and their food source left alone.

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Rosemary Rannes
Rosemary Rannes26 days ago

Alicia thank you for caring2share this great Victory for endangered Orcas that will protect their critical habitat! Hopefully the Chinook salmon will thrive again! This generation, and Lucky, the Orca calf, will be given a greater chance to live a healthier, longer life, which hopefully will see their numbers increase.
" “This legal victory might save the day for these endangered orcas,” Sakashita added. “Keeping the oceans healthy for orcas isn’t only a legal mandate, but a moral one. We owe that to our children and the next generation of orcas.”

For more on how to help, check out organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, Orca Network, Center for Whale Research, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative."

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a month ago

Why are they hanging on to those useless and destructive dams for decades? Politicians are idiots

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Lesa D
Past Member about a month ago

#70286 petition signed...

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Lesa D
Past Member about a month ago

thank you Alicia...

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Patricia A
Past Member about a month ago

thanks

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Vincent T
William Tabout a month ago

Thank you for this

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Karen N
Karen Nabout a month ago

I agree with Alea C and Renata B regarding Lolita. There is nothing impressive whatsoever or educational about keeping animals in captivity in aquariums, circuses, or zoos etc., all it does is promote and display the exploitation and physical, mental, psychological, emotional breakdown and even the death of them and deeply upsets those of us that empathise with other living beings . . . Those who exploit and harm animals and other creatures should be imprisoned for their crimes against Mother Nature and her poor animals.

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Karen N
Karen Nabout a month ago

A world without animals would be unthinkable . . . A world without the lowlife scum that instigate, encourage, condone, promote, support, participate, spectate and profit in the exploitation, discrimination, persecution, suffering, harming, hunting and murder of animals would be bliss!

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