Feds eye more critical habitat for Pacific Northwest orcas

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Public input wanted: final decision due in 2017

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists will study whether more critical habitat could benefit an endangered group of killer whales that roams the ocean off the Pacific Northwest, from Puget Sound down to northern California.

Wildlife conservation advocates last year petitioned NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service, seeking critical habitat designation for the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Documents related to the process are compiled here. Continue reading

Feds include captive orca under endangered species listing

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Public comments on listing decision reflect changes in public attitudes on captive animals. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Activists push to free Lolita, a killer whale that has been at the Miami Seaquarium since the 1970s

Staff Report

FRISCO — A grassroots push to return a captured killer whale from the Miami Seaquarium to its home in the Pacific Ocean got a boost from federal biologists and attorneys this week, who decided to include Lolita in the endangered species listing for Southern Resident Killer Whales that spend much of the year in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia.

In a Feb. 4 announcement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that, while Lolita will now share the endangered listing status of the population she came from, the decision does not impact her residence at the Miami Seaquarium, which doesn’t currently have plans to return the marine mammal to the ocean. Continue reading

Oceans: More love for West Coast orcas?

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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

Groups seek more protection for West Coast orcas

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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

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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

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