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Orca Awareness Month Highlights Threats to Species

One clan of Northwest orcas sometimes travels to Oregon's Klamath River in order to feed on salmon. (pixabay)
One clan of Northwest orcas sometimes travels to Oregon's Klamath River in order to feed on salmon. (pixabay)
June 6, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – It's Orca Awareness Month, a time when conservation groups recognize the threat that killer whales face.

A clan of orcas in the Northwest, called the Southern Resident Killer Whales, has been on the Endangered Species list since 2005.

Many of the whales are found in Washington's inland waters during the summer, although Orca Network co-founder Howard Garrett says the whales do make their way south, feeding off Oregon's coast.

"The Southern Residents will typically go well into Oregon, down the coastline,” he says. “It's not a predictable migration, so they kind of range at will – basically, we assume, wherever they are finding some Chinook."

Garrett says the orca pods eat Chinook at the mouth of the Klamath River, and sometimes travel as far south as the Sacramento River in California.

In the late 1990s, the Southern Resident orca population decreased by 20 percent. After that they were placed on the Endangered Species list.

Researchers found the whales were under-nourished because of dwindling Chinook salmon populations.

Garrett says the Orca Network wants to protect salmon in order to help the whales.

"Our efforts are primarily to contribute to salmon restoration and the awareness of that linkage between the Chinook salmon and the health of the Southern Residents,” he says. “So, that's a lot of what Orca Awareness Month will do."

The Orca Network wants four dams on the lower Snake River removed. Garrett says the dams are preventing salmon from reaching the Pacific Ocean where killer whales can feed on them.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR