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Resident Orcas Attacked By Anti-Environment Group

A far right anti-environmental group based in Sacramento, California is trying to get federal Endangered Species Act protections removed from a small extended west coast family group of killer whales.

This group of killer whales, or orcas, is known as the southern residents because they spend much of their time residing in coastal waters between Washington and Canada’s Vancouver island. They feed almost exclusively on salmon, which is indirectly what’s got them in trouble with the anti-environmental Pacific Legal Foundation. They eat salmon not only in Washington waters, but as far south as California when salmon mass there in the spring.

Federal regulators curtailed fresh water diversions to large agricultural operations in the desert on the west side of California’s San Joaquin Valley, in part to save the salmon eaten by the whales—both for the sake of the threatened salmon, and for the whales. The Pacific Legal Foundation and other anti-environment groups (including one headed by a former Bush Administration wildlife official) found a few irrigators there who were willing to ignore the needs of the orcas in order to get more water diverted.

Because these groups and the irrigators live more than a thousand miles from where the killer whales spend most of their time, no one should be surprised they aren’t all that concerned about the whales.

This consortium asked the federal National Marine Fisheries Service to consider lifting protections for the whales on the belief that all killer whales worldwide are the same. The truth is killer whales tend to fall into three very different groups. Resident orcas, which are fish eating (salmon, in our neck of the woods) coastal dwellers; transients, which have evolved to hunt seals and other whales; and offshores, which roam the high seas feeding on sharks and other fish. In addition to genetic differences and specialized physical traits, the vocalizations of the three groups are very different, essentially they speak three different languages.

Nonetheless, the irrigators in California are insisting they’re all the same and claim they have brand new genetic evidence to prove it. Their sponsors at Pacific Legal Foundation have tried many times before to convince courts to deny ESA protections for various distinct population segments of wildlife based on their misunderstandings of biology, nature and the law.

Earthjustice attorneys brought the lawsuits years ago that resulted in the southern residents getting Endangered Species Act protections. This group of whales, which numbered well over 100 has hovered at around 80 for years while salmon stocks continue to decline and toxins in their environment continue to accumulate. Earthjustice will add its views to the determination to come.

Sometime in the fall of 2013, the National Marine Fisheries Service will formally respond. In all likelihood they’ll reject PLF’s misguided efforts to put a handful of growers ahead of the west coast’s natural heritage, as they should.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.