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Federal Protection of Killer Whales on the Line

Photo: National Marine Fisheries Service considering petition to delist Southern Resident killer whales
Photo: National Marine Fisheries Service considering petition to delist Southern Resident killer whales
January 28, 2013

The public comment period closes tonight (Monday, 9 p.m.) on a petition to remove some killer whales from the federal endangered species list. Some California farmers say the Southern Resident orcas are not eligible because they're no different than any other type of whale.

Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity, says these same arguments were already discounted when the whales were first listed back in 2005.

"The orcas need the safety net of the Endangered Species Act," she says. "There's nothing new that shows they're out of trouble, and the threats to them are continuing, so they need continued protection."

There are fewer than 90 Southern Resident orcas left. One of the main threats is a lack of prey, since they mostly eat salmon, which are in short supply in northern California rivers.

Attorney Steve Mashuda with Earthjustice says the effort to de-list the orca is a backhanded way of protesting salmon recovery efforts, and the orcas are caught in the middle.

"These irrigators are, I think, motivated by a desire to be able to use more water, without regard to salmon protection, which would hurt the salmon but also hurts Southern Resident killer whales."

So far, more than 76,000 people have submitted public comments supporting the continued protections for the orcas. If the National Marine Fisheries Service agrees with the farmers' petition and proposes de-listing the orcas, another one-year process begins, including more public comments and hearings.

The petition to de-list the orcas is at A list of Southern Resident orca names/numbers is at

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA