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PNS Daily Newscast - September 21, 2018 


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Will CA Farm Water Needs Trump WA Orca Survival?

PHOTO: This Southern Resident orca is "J2," known as "Granny" for her age and aptitude as a babysitter of young whale calves. Photo by Traci Walter, courtesy of the Orca Network.
PHOTO: This Southern Resident orca is "J2," known as "Granny" for her age and aptitude as a babysitter of young whale calves. Photo by Traci Walter, courtesy of the Orca Network.
January 28, 2013

SEATTLE - Today is the final day to comment on a petition to take a Pacific Northwest killer whale off the endangered species list. There are fewer than 90 Southern Resident orcas, popular mascots of the Puget Sound area. Two commercial farms in California say these whales are no different than any other type of orca and are therefore not scarce, however.

The whales eat salmon, a fish in short supply in northern California rivers. Attorney Steve Mashuda with Earthjustice calls it a backhanded way of protesting salmon recovery efforts - and the orcas are caught in the middle. "These irrigators are motivated by a desire to be able to use more water, without regard to salmon protection," he says, "which would hurt the salmon, but also hurts Southern Resident killer whales."

The farmers say their water supplies have been severely cut by regulations that are due, in part, to the orcas' protected status. They say they have had to cut back on the acres they plant and lay off workers.

Earthjustice filed the case that secured Endangered Species Act protection for these whales in 2005. Mashuda says the Southern Residents are some of the most closely studied whales on the planet; each has a unique name and number.

"These orcas have evolved a very distinct population structure," he explains, "a distinct culture that relies on salmon. And they have physiological differences, physical differences, communication differences, hunting strategies - all that are unique to this population."

Both sides say they have scientific evidence to prove their points. If the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) agrees with the farmers' petition and proposes de-listing the orcas, another one-year process begins, including more public comments and hearings. Mashuda says a decision is expected by early fall.

More than 76,000 comments have already been submitted to the NMFS in favor of keeping the protections in place, according to Earthjustice. The comment period ends tonight at 9 p.m. Pacific time.

The petition to de-list the orcas is at www.pacificlegal.org. A list of Southern Resident orca names and numbers is at www.whalemuseum.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA