Protecting the Orcas of Southern Washington

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on January 9, 2013

Southern resident orca (Photo by Miles Ritter)

What does it mean to be "endangered?" For the creatures of the deep–those endangered whales who live in fragile marine ecosystems, it means the difference of life and death. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering a petition to remove a group of orcas from the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)–not because they are no longer threatened, but because their existence is inconvenient. Why? Well, it all comes down to water and money.

The incredibly self-aware group of whales (orcas) living off the coast of southern Washington are also known as Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW)–the pod that Lolita was taken from years ago. The distinct population segment, made up of about 84 individual orcas and listed as endangered since 2005, are "resident" fish-eating whales who spend time each year in the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. Like humans, the southern orcas engage in family behaviors such as babysitting and food-sharing. Marine experts have declared that these orcas truly need all the protection we can provide.

So who is trying to remove these protections? The petition is brought by the corporate-backed Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), allegedly on behalf of farmers who want water from the Sacramento River. This water is off limits because it holds endangered Chinook salmon, who the southern orcas depend upon for their survival. Thus, farmers wouldn’t get access to the water, regardless of this petition. A previous lawsuit to de-list the orcas was dismissed for lack of standing. PLF’s new strategy, with arguments about farmers and semantics about species designation, carries with it a veiled threat of further lawsuits.

Southern resident orca
Southern resident orca (Photo by Miles Ritter)

Don’t be fooled. This petition is about weighing profit against the protection of endangered animals and complex marine ecosystems. At the heart of the petition is an underlying motivation to destroy the Endangered Species Act entirely. The ESA, a crucial, inestimable law for wildlife, gets in the way of business: that is the real issue. It is imperative that we protect orcas, and not allow profit-seeking groups to set in motion the complete destruction of the ESA.

These financial motivations truly violate the intention of the Endangered Species Act. The ESA mandates the protection of endangered species, period–the PLF’s petition is a shameful diversion of government agency resources. The NMFS is obligated to only weigh issues of the best science in this case, not potential profit from desecrating our oceans and rivers. We must not become a nation that removes animal protection laws for the purpose of allowing unmitigated commercial enterprise.

This dangerous petition could have dire consequences for the cherished orcas of southern Washington. The NMFS will consider the petition for 12 months, but they will only consider comments until January 28, 2013.

Take Action

Please protect orcas and let your voice be heard! Tell the NMFS that orcas in southern Washington should not be removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act! (The comment period has expired.)

  • The SRKW are as endangered as they ever were. Numbers have not recovered since listing in 2005 and the protection of the Endangered Species Act is crucial to their survival.
  • This delisting petition is a shameful diversion of agency resources. NMFS has already thoroughly considered the status of the SRKW and decided  the orcas should remain on the endangered list.
  • The petition is motivated by financial concerns that violate the intent of the ESA. The ESA mandates protecting animals no matter what the cost. NMFS cannot consider financial concerns, only science.

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18 thoughts on “Protecting the Orcas of Southern Washington

  1. Betty Jean Herner says:

    Please help save the orcas

  2. Cecil Hynds-Riddle says:

    It would be helpful if you could tell us what we should say when we comment on the proposed rule.

  3. Robin Sears says:

    PLEASE HELP SAVE THE ORCAS. ANY ALTERNATIVE IS UNCONSCIONABLE. DO THE RIGHT THING. THANK YOU!

  4. JoAnne Klein says:

    I find it sad that as a “human” race begging and pleading to save a species has to take place in order to get someone’s attention, and then raise millions of dollars to spend in courts to enable protective rights for our various species. Wouldn’t it be lovely if “humane” was “reinstated” into “Human”? Threatened species CANNOT speak for themselves… we humans must take on that task. Thus it is so many petitions, so many requests for monetary help, when all it really would take is a few Humane Humans.

  5. Edson De La Cruz says:

    Please save the orcas and continue to protect them. Our planet and nature needs these whales to stay protected and keep them around free of any form of abuse and cruelty!

  6. Veronica Hayes says:

    yeah that would be super helpful

  7. Veronica Hayes says:

    this is what i wrote, copied and pasted from the action alert:

    It is imperative that we protect orcas, and not allow profit-seeking groups to set in motion the complete destruction of the ESA.

    These financial motivations truly violate the intention of the Endangered Species Act. The ESA mandates the protection of endangered species, period—the PLF’s petition is a shameful diversion of government agency resources. The NMFS is obligated to only weigh issues of the best science in this case, not potential profit from desecrating our oceans and rivers. We must not become a nation that removes animal protection laws for the purpose of allowing unmitigated commercial enterprise.

    This dangerous petition could have dire consequences if the orcas in southern Washington were to be removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

  8. Tamara Hayes says:

    I am against the delisting of the Orca whales of southern Washington. They are a distinct population and they are not like other killer whales in that they only eat fish. The only reason this petition to delist them exists is because farmers want to be able to use irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Delta and they cannot do that if the Orca’s remain listed as an endangered species.

    We cannot keep putting wildlife at risk for the sake of farming. This has become a global problem and it is wrong to take away protections that were put in place for a reason so that yet another farm can use the resources that the whales currently use.

    Please leave the current protections in place as there are only 86 of these whales left in Puget Sound.

    Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

  9. Marcie Callewaert says:

    These orcas are not just in Southern Washington. They spend the majority of their time in Southern BC and Northern Washington and travel through Southern Washington, Oregon and California. They are wide ranging and must be protected throughout the entirety of their habitat!

  10. Cynthia Scionti says:

    Please keep the Orcas endangered so that they may be protected.

  11. It is sad that animals cannot speak for themselves. Therefore, we must do it for them. It is imperative that we saved all the animals in nature. We must save them for future generations. It is disgusting to see the beauty of nature being destroyed by humans. We must also elect officials that care about animals and thus make it possible for all the animals to exist without the expense of lawsuits.

  12. Julia Curry says:

    I appreciate your notice about the petition to delist orcas from ESA protection. I wish you’d give more specifics on the claims made in the petition, and talking points for your readers.

    I ended up finding the petition on the MFS page, reading, and submitting a comment, but many of your folks will be deterred by having to take those steps.

    Thanks.

  13. Ian says:

    Thanks for your comments regarding the website action functionality. We will take your suggestions into consideration on the next round of development of our plaform.

  14. Katie McDougall says:

    I sent comments via the link which said the comments were going to the NOAA

  15. Karen says:

    these animals need our help….speak up for those who can’t

  16. dani schulz says:

    I think they need the help and we are the ones who can do just that. please take it seareisly stop being rude and get out there and help someone that is not yourself for once in your life!!!!!!! Don’t you think it is sad that they are depending on you to help them!!!!!!!!!! please donate as much as you can to help the orcas!!!!!!

  17. Erin says:

    Thank you, ALDF, for never giving up and fighting for those who cannot speak and have virtually no rights. I submitted my comment and please, let’s get Lolita liberated, poor thing.
    It literally makes me sick and keeps me up nights thinking about poor innocent animals suffering at the hands of man, whether they are subjected to labarotory testing or stuck in a deplorable roadside zoo, to just name two horrific scenarios…I wish I could do more.

  18. Theresa Rodriguez says:

    I dread the day when our wildlife can only be seen in pictures. This is the legacy we leave our children when we fail to protect the endangered species on this planet.

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