A group of California farmers has petitioned NOAA Fisheries to remove Puget Sound orcas from the federal Endangered Species Act list.
The petition filed on their behalf by conservative property rights group Pacific Legal Foundation raised an old argument that the three pods, or families, of killer whales that reside much of the year in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are not distinct from the 50,000 other killer whales that roam the world’s oceans.
The federal government sided with conservation groups and others in 2005, concluding that the 86 or so members of the J, K and L pods are a distinct subspecies and in such low numbers that they warrant protection.
NOAA Fisheries got it right seven years ago. There has been very little change in the orcas’ plight, certainly nothing to suggest they are on the road to recovery.
The listing of the so-called southern resident population should remain in effect. Evidence continues to mount that the Puget Sound killer whales, which sit at the top of the marine food chain, remain vulnerable to decline in salmon populations that they rely on for much of their food.
In other words, the hard work to stabilize and increase the orca population is far from over and could very well be a task that never ends.
NOAA Fisheries is expected to complete its review by August of next year.
Barring some unexpected scientific discovery, the Puget Sound killer whales should remain on the ESA list of protected species.