Submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity
On Aug. 1, conservation groups sent a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect critically endangered Southern resident killer whales from boat traffic and noise in a key foraging area near Washington’s San Juan Island. The proposed “whale protection zone” could help save an iconic orca species that is down to just 75 individuals and facing extinction.
In 2016 the Center for Biological Diversity and Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to establish the 10-square-mile zone in the Salish Sea’s Haro Strait, a step that would limit vessel speeds and other activities. That petition was ignored, and since then eight more Southern resident orcas have perished. Today the groups gave the administration 30 days to respond.
“West Coast orcas are dying out right in front of our eyes while the Trump administration ignores their plight,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need swift protections to prevent their extinction.”
This week’s heartbreaking images of orca mother J35, also known as Tahlequah, pushing her dead calf for almost a week, highlighted their plight. Southern residents are rapidly declining because of depleted Chinook salmon runs, vessel noise and traffic in key foraging areas, water pollution and other threats.
The impact of motorboat noise in their waters blocks the ability of the Southern residents to use their echolocation to find dwindling food resources. The whale-protection zone would quickly and inexpensively give these orcas more quiet for foraging, communicating, resting and navigating. The proposal seeks to restrict vessels in the whale protection zone when killer whales congregate in the area from April 1 to Sept. 30.
“We have long been concerned about vessel noise and disturbance in the heart of Southern resident habitat. This action could yield huge benefits at a critical time when these orcas really need our help,” said Janet Thomas with Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance. “Officials need to stop stalling and create this whale-protection zone.”