The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed last week that Puget Sound’s orcas be added to the state’s list of endangered species, citing a dramatic decline in resident whales.
Providing endangered status at the state level doesn’t do as much as a federal listing—which is being reconsidered—but environmentalists and orca researchers hope it will help.
“The state is in the driving role when it comes to pollution-control issues and habitat restoration and habitat destruction,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound. “The state can do a lot. This is very helpful.”
“It’s a good idea to list them,” said David Bain, a researcher with the University of Washington who studies the effects of sonar and other noise on marine mammals. “The population is small. … They made the right decision there.”
The resident orca population once numbered about 200, but has dropped to a current estimate of 83. A shortage of salmon, their favorite food, combined with high levels of toxins and harassment by overzealous whale watchers are blamed for the decline.