OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is collecting public input on its proposal to add orca whales to the state's endangered species list.
The department is accepting written comment from Nov. 3 until Feb. 3 on the proposed listing and the draft species status report which 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 waters.
Last winter, Gov. Gary Locke appropriated $100,000 to WDFW to prepare the status report on orcas, also known as killer whales. That appropriation was made as part of the Governor's larger initiative aimed at bolstering the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem and the fish and wildlife species that depend on it.
"The killer whale is not only a magnificent animal, but it is an indicator of the overall health of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem, and it is vital we work together to achieve its recovery," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "We hope to speed and strengthen recovery efforts by working in concert with the public and other state, federal and Canadian officials on research, conservation and management activities."
Koenings added that WDFW, the Puget Sound Action Team and other state agencies are presently working with Canadian officials to assess the overall health of the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin trough. This Eco-region Conservation Assessment will guide efforts to maintain biodiversity in the region, he said.
If the Washington state orca listing is approved, WDFW will begin work on a recovery plan for killer whales in Washington. Canada is also are working on a recovery plan for southern resident orcas, and the federal government, through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (NOAA) Fisheries, has initiated a conservation plan for the same orca population.
Written comments on the state status report may be submitted by Feb. 3 to Harriet Allen, Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia WA 98501-1091.
Comments collected on the draft report will be considered in development of a final status report and listing recommendation. The final report and listing recommendation will be considered by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission next April 2-3 in Spokane.
The southern resident orcas consist of three social groups identified as the J, K and L pods. Southern resident orcas, which subsist primarily on salmon and other fish, spend late spring to fall in Puget Sound. Another killer whale population-identified as transient orcas-also inhabits state waters, feeding on harbor seals and other marine mammals. Two additional orca populations, off-shore and northern residents, are rarely seen here.
The southern resident whales, which travel from the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia to Monterey Bay in California, have declined by at least 18 percent since 1995, according to the draft status report. The L pod, which comprises about half the southern resident population, has been in sharp decline since 1994, with both higher mortality and lower birth rates. The report identifies several possible factors in the decline including a large drop in available salmon prey, pollution from PCB and DDT residues and harassment from marine vessels.
The state's findings mirror Canada's earlier action to list the southern resident orcas as an endangered species. In addition, the U.S. government designated the southern resident whales a depleted stock under the national Marine Mammal Protection Act.