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Oceans: More love for West Coast orcas?


Orcas along the coast of the Pacific Northwest may get more protected habitat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Feds to consider expanded habitat protections for endangered resident population of killer whales

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists will take another look at an endangered population of killer whales off the West Coast to determine whether they need more critical habitat.

The southern resident population of the marine mammals, based in Puget Sound, range along the Pacific Coast. A critical habitat expansion would protect winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which spurred the review with a formal petition.

“Despite nearly a decade of federal protection, the Puget Sound’s orca population remains perilously small, hovering around only 80 animals,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal is an important step toward recovery and will help the whales stave off extinction.” Continue reading

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Groups seek more protection for West Coast orcas


Can West Coast orcas survive?

New studies map important coastal habitat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Ocean conservation advocates say the latest research shows a need to protect more habitat for orcas along the west coast.

Based in part on tracking studies showing orca movements, the Center for Biological Diversity last week petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The petition points out that only 81 killer whales remain in the Southern Resident population. Continue reading

Puget Sound orcas keep ESA protection


Puget Sound‘s orcas need Endangered Species Act protection. Photo courtesy NOAA/NMFS.

Feds reject argument by ultra- conservative property rights group

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A tiny population of threatened killer whales in Puget Sound will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service this week rejected a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which had challenged the population’s status.

The fringe property rights advocacy group claimed, based in invalid science, that the Puget Sound  “southern resident” killer whales are not a distinct population. In response, the federal government conducted a year-long review of the status and eligibility of the orcas for Endangered Species Act protection and confirmed that the whale’s endangered listing remains warranted. Continue reading

Oceans: Feds to consider de-listing Puget Sound orcas

The National Marine Fisheries Service will consider a petition to de-list Puget Sound orcas. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Right-wing property rights group files nuisance petition

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — An anti-environmental property rights groups has successfully petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to reconsider its Endangered Species Act listing for Puget Sound’s resident orcas, more formally known as southern resident killer whales.

Puget Sound orcas have had endangered status since 2005, when federal biologists listed them due to threats from pollution, habitat destruction and over-collection by the marine aquarium industry. Puget Sound orcas are one of a few populations to feed extensively on salmon; they have a unique dialect; and previous studies have shown they are genetically unique. Continue reading

Pacific Northwest orcas declining for lack of salmon

New study suggests shipping traffic a smaller factor

A pod of orcas in the Pacific. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Recovering Chinook salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest is probably the key to killer whale conservation efforts, according to new research based on measurements of hormone levels in the marine mammals.

The southern resident killer whales, living in coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, have been struggling and some researchers think it’s primarily because of increase ship traffic in the region.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are also  threatened by pollution and other human activities in many parts of their range.

But new research suggests the marine mammals are struggling mainly because of inadequate prey.The study was led led by Katherine Ayres, who completed the work while at University of Washington in Seattle. Continue reading

Global warming: How will Arctic ecosystems change?

What do orcas really eat? PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Scientists supplement research with traditional indigenous knowledge

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As Arctic sea ice melts at unrelenting pace, marine biologists are trying to understand how ecosystems in the North Pole region may change. As with any ecosystem, apex predators are critical. In the Arctic Ocean, killer whales fill that role, eating nearly everything, from schools of small fish to large whales.

The increase in hunting territories available to killer whales in the Arctic due to climate change and melting sea ice could seriously affect the marine ecosystem balance. Some new research, recently published in BioMed Central’s re-launched open access journal Aquatic Biosystems, has combined scientific observations with Canadian Inuit traditional knowledge to start answering some of those questions by determing killer whale behaviour and diet in the Arctic. Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges naval sonar testing

Groups say federal agencies should use updated biological information to permit large-scale training exercises in the Pacific

Orcas in the Pacific. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Conservation groups say federal wildlife officials have failed to use the best available information on locations of marine mammals to protect the animals from the impacts of naval sonar training.

Last week, a coalition of conservation and American Indian groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

The lawsuit calls on the agency to mitigate anticipated harm to marine mammals and biologically critical areas within the training range that stretches from Northern California to the Canadian border. Continue reading

Orcas swim 5,000 miles for warm-water ‘spa treatment’

Transient killer whales near Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

NOAA researchers document unusual long-distance killer whale migration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Killer whales from Antarctic waters may be making long-distance treks to warmer water as a type of marine mammal spa treatment, shedding skin that’s covered with diatoms and algae.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers tagged a dozen killer whales in Antarctic waters and tracked five that showed consistent movement to subtropical waters.

Some of the orcas made the 5,000-mile round trip to southern Brazil in just 42 days, returning to Antarctica immediately. The researchers, who published their findings in the science journal Biology Letters, This was the first long distance migration ever reported for killer whales. Continue reading

Separate killer whale species identified

Marine biologists are recommending that this transient mammal-eating killer whale lliving in the North Pacific be classified as a distinct species. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Researchers say genetic markers show important differences for conservation goals

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Marine biologists have long thought the world’s killer whale populations might be made up of more than one species, but they haven’t been able to do enough genetic mapping to be sure — until now.

In a report published last week in Genome Research, scientists with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported finding strong evidence of multiple species. The researchers say their conclusions are important because it will help resource managers establish conservation priorities and to better understand the ecological role of one of the oceans’ top predators. Continue reading


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