On Friday, April 21st, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will determine whether the petition submitted earlier this year by WDC and our conservation partners Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity to list the Southern Resident orcas under the Oregon Endangered Species Act presents enough information to move forward with the listing. The Commission’s decision will either be the first step to creating targeted efforts in the state of Oregon for the recovery of Southern Resident orcas or maintain the status quo that is failing the orcas and the ecosystem they depend on.
The Southern Resident orcas live in waters along the West Coast of the United States and Canada, using different parts of their range in different seasons. The orcas have evolved alongside their main source of food, Chinook salmon, and their movements still follow the historic seasonal changes in food availability, even as Chinook salmon have drastically declined throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is this lack of food, along with pollution, noise, and increasing human use of the ocean, that are the main threats to the Southern Resident population.
While the orcas have been listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 2005 and under the Washington State ESA since 2004, they have not yet received additional state-level protection in Oregon or California. The federal ESA is a landmark law that has been incredibly effective since being created in 1973 (and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year!), but additional listings under state ESAs and more local recovery efforts can complement federal law and create more coordination between agencies responsible for endangered species.
For a population like the Southern Residents, whose range spans three states (and one Canadian province), work to address threats to the whales and their habitat need to happen throughout their range. The challenges to the survival of this orca community are not limited to only one part of their home – they are present and persistent all along the West Coast. Restoring salmon in only one river, or cleaning up pollution in one estuary, or slowing down boats in one area, will not be enough to save the Southern Residents.
If the Fish and Wildlife Commission advances our petition, it will start a process in Oregon to create dedicated, coordinated work for Southern Resident orca recovery. A state listing will catalyze Oregon agencies to work together, review how state actions impact the orcas, their prey, and their habitat, require a state-specific recovery plan, and better position Oregon to work with Washington state and the federal government for collaborative efforts to protect these iconic whales wherever they live.
WDC and our co-petitioners provided substantial scientific evidence to support listing the Southern Residents under the Oregon ESA. There is no doubt that the state, its rivers, and their salmon are essential to the Southern Residents. Advancing the petition is the best decision for these whales, and we will be watching with the expectation that the Commission makes the right decision.
WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading international charity dedicated solely to the worldwide conservation and welfare of all whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.