Killer whales that spend their summers in Puget Sound are a distinct population group and will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service spent a year reviewing a petition to delist the orcas. The petition was brought by the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of California farmers who faced water restrictions to protect salmon the orcas eat. They argued the Puget Sound orcas were part of a larger north Pacific population and didn’t qualify for the 2005 endangered species listing.
But NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman said those arguments were rejected.
“We have decided these killer whales are a distinct population group,” Gorman said. “They have their own language, own food source. They don’t interbreed with other groups of killer whales. They meet the legal standard for a distinct population group.”
He added officials are continuing to work on recovery plan options.
There are now 82 orcas in three pods — J, K and L — which also spend much of the year in the Pacific off the West Coast.
They are known as southern resident orcas. Puget Sound also is visited by so-called transient killer whales that hunt harbor seals. More....