State wants "endangered " listing for region's orcas
Clallam County, WA - The State Department of Fish and Wildlife says the region’s orca whales should be treated as an “endangered species”, so the remaining “killer whales” in the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca can be protected from extinction.
Thursday state officials proposed giving the orcas “endangered” status under state law. The whales are already listed as a “depleted” species under federal law. The state designation doesn’t carry the same weight as protection under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, state wildlife biologists say the listing could help draw attention to the alarming decline in orca populations, and protect them from direct impacts, like harassment or even being killed.
If the listing is ultimately approved, the state would have to draw up a recovery plan and that could help provide even more protection for the whales by forcing the cleanup of toxic sources that are killing some of the graceful mammals. Those toxins helped kill a female orca that was found dead at the mouth of the Dungeness River two years ago. Over the past few years, orca populations on the inland waters dropped by nearly 20%. That’s prompted biologists to speculate that the whales’ immune and reproductive systems are being impacted by toxins, and possibly by declining salmon runs which are a major food source. Some are even concerned about the whales being disturbed by the increasing number of whale-watching boats in the region.
A three month comment period on the listing begins on Monday.