New lawsuit adds pressure on federal agencies to protect endangered orca whales

Good news for the southern resident orca whales as a new lawsuit filed in federal court takes aim at a loophole that is being used to bypass federal endangered species act regulation.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Fish Conservancy asked the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Wednesday to order officials to reconsider a 2009 finding that commercial and recreational fisheries did not jeopardize the orcas’ survival. 

This new lawsuit adds urgency and accountability to lasts months National Marine Fisheries Service letter indicating their intention to reconsider a 2009 finding that commercial and recreational fisheries did not jeopardize the orcas’ survival.  This finding has been the foundation for the federal government to bypass endangered species act protections on salmon, the main food for the southern resident orca whales.

“We have got to figure out how to get them more salmon,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity . “Since 2009 it’s become much more crystallized just how critical prey availability is to their reproductive success and survival.”

The Endangered Species Act requires the government to certify that any actions it approves won’t jeopardize the survival of a listed species. In the 2009 review, experts found that it wasn’t clear how a lack of prey affected orcas, but that the fisheries were not likely to contribute to their extinction.

Since then, however, the population of whales that spend their summers in the waters between Washington state and Canada — known as the Southern Resident killer whales — has fallen from 87 to 75. A calf born in December, named Lucky, is the first to have lived past birth since 2015. And scientists have learned much more about how crucial it is for orcas to have enough of the large, fatty Chinook: As they starve, the whales start burning their blubber. Because toxins from water pollution are stored in the blubber, that can harm the whales’ reproductive ability, scientists believe.

It is exactly because of new information such as this that it is time to revisit the 2009 finding and update the legislation to include protection of the orca whale’s primary food source.  You can read the full article HERE, and learn more about this win for the southern resident orca whales.

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