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Public Comment on Orca Saving Recommendations Ends Sunday

There are 74 Southern Resident orcas in the Northwest, their lowest population in nearly three decades. (Candice Emmons/NOAA)
There are 74 Southern Resident orcas in the Northwest, their lowest population in nearly three decades. (Candice Emmons/NOAA)
October 4, 2018

SEATTLE – The Washington state Southern Resident Orca Task Force's recommendations for saving the killer whale population are open for public comment through Sunday.

The organization, convened by Gov. Jay Inslee, released a long list of potential fixes last week and will review public comments at its Oct. 17 meeting. A final plan is due Nov. 16.

Robb Krehbiel, Northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife and a member of the task force Prey Working Group, says he's enthusiastic about recommendations to increase spill over Washington dams in order to help the orcas' main food source, Chinook salmon, but he thinks the state can do more.

"What we have in front of us for the task force right now is a good document,” he states. “I think that it'll move us in the right direction, but I'm worried that the current report is not as bold as it needs to be."

Krehbiel is concerned the task force report is skirting such issues as dam removal that he says would be most helpful for salmon.

The task force's other two working groups are focused on vessel noise and toxins in the ecosystem.

Krehbiel says the recent deaths of an adolescent and newborn orca calf have underscored the need for quick action.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and also on the Prey Working Group, agrees with Krehbiel that a long-term solution for saving the southern resident killer whales has to involve breaching dams, specifically those on the lower Snake River.

However, this remains controversial in southeast Washington, where residents say it would cut into hydropower.

Hamilton recommends that Inslee start a conversation about the dams in the region.

"What Gov. Inslee could do immediately – this man who cares about natural resources, who cares about communities – is to lead a discussion where we talk about how to keep communities whole while we discuss how to recover salmon," Hamilton states.

Les Purce, co-chair of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, says the group will consider more long-term and detailed solutions next year. He says orca deaths this summer highlight this issue's urgency.

"It's really a message for us, about the ecosystem itself in the Northwest and its poor health, and the fact that the orca are our brothers and sisters and the message that they give is a message to us about our future health," he points out.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA