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WA's Beloved Orcas Going Hungry This Thanksgiving?

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November 20, 2007

Seattle, WA – There are some Puget Sound residents who won't be feasting on Thanksgiving. They're the 88 orca whales who live in the Sound and depend on salmon for their diet. Marine scientists say the famous orcas are in trouble this year, because they're not getting enough to eat. The researchers followed the whales' food chain to discover it links all the way from the Sound, to the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, believes the new federal plan to save salmon doesn't do enough for either of these endangered species, whose ecosystems are linked.

"Who would've thought that Puget Sound whales would need the Columbia River? Well, it turns out that the salmon that come out of the Columbia River are an important part of their survival. So recovery of the Columbia River salmon is a key part of the puzzle."

Fletcher explains the whales are a major tourist attraction for the Sound communities, many of whom are probably unaware of the Columbia River connection.

"I think up till now, most people have thought about the recovery of these whales strictly in terms of the recovery of Puget Sound salmon, which is also essential. But it's really a regional issue that most certainly includes the Columbia River salmon."

Two of the three whale groups, called "pods," leave the Sound to find more food. Fletcher adds another threat to the orcas is that some of the Puget Sound salmon are contaminated with chemicals. A total of 13 salmon species are now listed as endangered.

The research about the orca-salmon connection was done by the Center for Whale Research, Friday Harbor Labs, and The Orca Network, and summarized in a letter this week to NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for salmon recovery. It was also sent to Congressional delegations from the Pacific Northwest states.

Chris Thomas/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - WA