OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled an open house for Jan. 30 in Mount Vernon to discuss its proposal to add orca whales to the state's endangered species list.
The open house is set for 2-8 p.m. at the Best Western Cotton Tree Inn, 2300 Market St. in Mount Vernon. WDFW staff will be available to discuss the status of orca populations and the proposal to include the marine mammals on the state endangered species list.
The department is accepting written comments until Feb. 3 on the proposed listing and the draft species status report that prompted the listing proposal. The draft status report, which can be viewed on the WDFW website, details possible factors in the decline of the southern resident orca population that inhabits Washington's waters.
The final report and recommendation will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its April 2-3 meeting in Spokane.
The southern resident orcas, also known as "killer whales," consist of three social groups, known as J, K and L pods. These orcas feed primarily on salmon and other fish, while transient orcas, which also inhabit Washington waters, feed primarily on harbor seals and other marine mammals. Two additional orca populations - offshore and northern residents - are rarely seen in Washington state.
The L pod, which comprises about half the southern resident population, has been in sharp decline since 1994, with both higher mortality and lower birthrates. The report identifies several possible factors in the orca's decline, including a drop in salmon populations for food, pollution from PCB and DDT residues and harassment from marine vessel traffic.
The U.S. government has designated the southern resident population as a "depleted stock" under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, while Canada has listed the southern residents as "endangered." The department is working with these agencies and the public to develop joint conservation and recovery measures for the southern resident orca stock.
In 2002, Gov. Gary Locke appropriated $100,000 to WDFW for orca conservation, including a status report, contaminant research and participation in the larger regional orca recovery effort. That appropriation was made as part of the Governor's initiative aimed at bolstering the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem and the fish and wildlife species that depend on it.
Directions to the Cotton Tree Inn: Take the College Way exit (227) from Interstate 5 and head east on College Way. Drive about two-tenths of a mile on College Way and turn left onto Riverside Drive. Drive about three-tenths of a mile on Riverside Drive and turn left onto Pacific Place. Drive about one-tenth of a mile on Pacific Place and turn right onto Market Street. The Cotton Tree Inn is at 2300 Market St.