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Calling for Protections During Orca Action Month

Only 73 orcas remain in the Northwest's endangered Southern Resident population. (fletcherjcm/Flickr)
Only 73 orcas remain in the Northwest's endangered Southern Resident population. (fletcherjcm/Flickr)
June 5, 2019

SEATTLE – Advocates for a healthier Puget Sound are bringing awareness to the precarious future of orcas in the Northwest this month.

Now in its 13th year, Orca Action Month has spread from Washington state to Oregon and British Columbia in recent years. It highlights the steps Northwest residents can take to help protect the endangered Southern Resident orca population.

Rein Attemann, Puget Sound campaign manager for the Washington Environmental Council, noted that their numbers have dwindled to a three-decade low of 73, and the population has a low birth rate and high mortality rate.

"It would be really sad to see a population of this species go extinct in a lifetime," he said, "but that is the dire predicament that they're in."

Events are planned throughout Puget Sound, including whale talks, beach cleanups and kayak tours. There are also events for kids and the Port Townsend Orca and Salmon Festival on June 15.

While Salish Sea orcas are facing tough times, Attemann said actions at the state level, such as convening the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, make him hopeful for their survival.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe and a task force member, said there are many parallels between threats to orcas and his own tribe, which has relied on Chinook salmon for generations. Like other tribes in the Northwest, the Suquamish have a cultural connection and relationship to orcas. At a recent orca task force meeting, Forsman laid this out for the other members of the group.

"If the orcas had a representative here, I don't think the tribes and the orcas would be too far apart on solutions," he said. "So, we do have a lot in common together, because we all have the same requests - clean water, better habitat, more fish - those type of sustainable initiatives."

Forsman said he hopes the task force can take immediate actions, especially to increase the Chinook population. He said he's participating in the Lummi Nation's totem-pole journey event on Friday.

More information on Orca Action Month is online at orcamonth.wordpress.com/events/.

Disclosure: Washington Environmental Council contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environmental Justice, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA