U.S. Government is forced to list Orca population as threatened

Festive news for imperilled Killer Whales

December 16, 2004

VANCOUVER, BC – Canadian conservation groups are overjoyed by today’s announcement by the U.S. Federal government to list the Southern Resident population of Killer whales (Orcinus orca) under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Last year Sierra Legal, the Georgia Strait Alliance and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee joined their American allies in a successful court challenge to force the US government to list these highly endangered trans-boundary whales under the ESA.

On Dec 17, 2003, the US District Court overturned a controversial National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decision that found the Southern Resident orca population is not ‘significant’ and thus did not qualify for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The ruling by the court in 2003 meant that the NMFS had 12 months to change its decision, which was announced today at a press conference in Seattle.

“This is good news,” said staff scientist Mitch Anderson for Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “These whales need protection on both sides of the border and this is big step in the right direction. Canada and the US now need to implement a meaningful recovery strategy to protect this rare and splendid population of orcas. Otherwise these whales could face extinction in as little as 30 years.”

“Canadians share with our American neighbours the responsibility of protecting these magnificent animals and their habitat from various threats, including toxic pollution, boat noise and harassment and declines in their prey, primarily Chinook salmon,” said Peter Ronald of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “This ESA designation will provide the strongest available protection for our imperilled orcas, requiring a comprehensive recovery plan to address these threats. Both of our countries must do everything possible to reverse the decline of these the most famous whales in the world.”

“This is an early Christmas present for the whales and people on both sides of the border,” said Gwen Barlee, Endangered Species Campaigner for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. “We applaud the U.S. government for recognizing this integral part of our shared natural and cultural heritage and for encouraging the protection that the killer whale needs and deserves.”

The Southern Resident orcas live in the waters off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State. In Canada, this dwindling population was designated as ‘endangered’ in 2001 under the federal Species at Risk Act and a recovery strategy is being developed. Designating this population in US waters as endangered under the ESA will help to alleviate human-caused threats that have reduced the population to as few as 85 whales – a decline of 20% since the early 1990s.