Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 21, 2023

Contact:

Quinn Read, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 979-3074, QRead@biologicaldiversity.org
Hawk Hammer, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0295, Hhammer@defenders.org
Colleen Weiler, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, (508) 746-2522, colleen.weiler@whales.org

Southern Resident Orcas Move Closer to Oregon Endangered Species Protections

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted today to advance a petition seeking to protect Southern Resident orcas under the state Endangered Species Act.

The petition was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

In the coming months the commission will conduct a public rulemaking process and decide whether to protect the orcas under state law. Only 73 Southern Resident orcas remain alive, and their numbers have decreased in recent years. While they are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they are still threatened by dwindling salmon runs, pollution and vessel traffic.

“Southern Resident orcas are one step closer to getting the protection they need in Oregon, thanks to the wildlife commission’s leadership,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is an encouraging sign that Oregon has moved from the sidelines of orca recovery onto the field of play. It’s about time.”

“These beloved orcas are on the brink of extinction and need and deserve all the help we can give,” said Kathleen Callaghy, Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “We are happy this petition is moving forward. It’s a scientifically sound and collaborative way of formalizing Oregon’s commitments to their recovery.”

Southern Resident orcas are recognized by their unique and striking black and white coloration and their history in popular culture. These orcas have an extensive range, which includes the inland and coastal waters of Washington and the coastal waters of Oregon and California.

The mouth of the Columbia River on Oregon’s northern border is a crucial foraging area for the whales, and more than half of the chinook salmon consumed while they are in coastal waters can be traced to the Columbia Basin.

The Southern residents even have their own dialect, which is unique among orcas. They feed almost exclusively on Chinook salmon, which are also experiencing population declines because of dams, habitat destruction, and other issues.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Colleen Weiler, Jessica Rekos fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “The Southern Residents regularly forage for Chinook salmon off the Oregon coast. Oregon is part of their home. There is still a lot of work to be done for Oregon to put meaningful recovery measures in place, but this is the much-needed first step, and we thank the commission for recognizing this opportunity for Oregon to be part of saving the Southern Residents.”

Southern resident orcas are also protected under Washington state’s Endangered Species Act.

Oregon state listing would require the development of a state endangered species management plan, which would spur coordination among relevant state agencies and the development of concrete actions to address the primary threats to orcas in Oregon.

Southern_Resident_Killer_Whale_NOAA_FPWC_06.jpg
Photogrammetry image of an adult female Southern Resident with her calf. Credit: NOAA Fisheries. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading international charity dedicated solely to the worldwide conservation and welfare of all whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

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