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Petition to delist Southern resident killer whales rejected

One year to the day after the Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on behalf of a group of California farmers to remove Endangered Species Act protection from local resident killer whales, NOAA rejected the delisting petition.

The NOAA Fisheries Service statement said there was no new information to change its 2005 decision to protect Puget Sound killer whales.

“Our determination that the southern resident killer whale population constitutes a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act and previous conclusion that the DPS is in danger of extinction and should retain endangered status all support our finding that the petitioned action to delist the southern resident killer whale DPS is not warranted,” the fisheries service said in its announcement.

In announcing the decision, NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman said the Southern resident killer whales have been determined to be a distinct population group, with its own language and own food source. He said the Southern residents do not breed with other groups of killer whales and that they meet the legal standard for a distinct population group.

The NOAA decision may not end the dispute, which pits The Empress Del Bosque and Coburn Ranch farms in the San Joaquin Valley south of Sacramento, represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, against the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, which decided in 2005 that the Southern resident killer whales, which consists of three closely related pods, deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2008, the Fisheries Service issued a recovery plan for the Puget Sound whales. As part of that plan, Fisheries extended what had been a 100-yard buffer between boats and whale to a 200-yard barrier.

The farm group argued that the Puget Sound pods should be considered part of the entire North Pacific killer whale population, which is not considered endangered.

The Pacific Legal Foundation and the farms have not announced whether they will follow up the rejection of their petition with a lawsuit.

— Steve Wehrly

 

 

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