SEATTLE, WA--(Marketwired - November 07, 2016) - Conservation groups petitioned the Obama administration today to create a 10-square-mile "whale protection zone" near San Juan Island to protect endangered orcas from vessel noise and disturbance that interferes with feeding. With the recent deaths of a mother and young calf, the population of critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, which makes its home in Puget Sound and migrates along the West Coast, has dipped to only 80 individuals.
With the population's recovery stalled, today's petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to create a protected zone in the Salish Sea's Haro Strait, where vessel traffic would be restricted in the whales' core foraging area. The petition was filed by Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Seawolf.
"The petitioners have been concerned for many years about the noise and disturbance experienced by the Southern Residents. Today we are taking a vital step to help prevent extinction of this endangered population," said Bruce Stedman, Orca Relief's executive director. "Our petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service is simple: Set up a whale protection zone for these iconic killer whales, and do it now."
The Fisheries Service singled out Southern Resident killer whales as one of eight species most at risk of extinction in its "Species in the Spotlight: Survive to Thrive" report to Congress earlier this year. Yet agency officials have resisted calls from conservation groups and a petition signed by more than 100,000 people to quickly expand critical habitat protections for this orca population from the 2,500 miles now designated around Puget Sound to cover more of its full 9,000-mile habitat range along the West Coast.
"These endangered orcas desperately need more protection to prevent them from spiraling into extinction. That means preventing noise disturbance in the core of their habitat and ensuring their access to salmon," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This whale protection zone could jump-start their recovery with concrete protections."
The Southern Resident population is threatened primarily by lack of food due to declining chinook salmon runs; toxic pollution; noise; and disturbance. The whale protection zone would quickly and inexpensively give these orcas more quiet for hunting, communications, and rest. Vessel restrictions would be in place from April 1 to Sept. 30, and all vessels would be required to adhere to a "no-wake" speed limit.
Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance ("Orca Relief") is a non-profit organization committed to conservation of killer whales (Orcinus orca), with a primary focus on the southern resident killer whale (SRKW) population stock in the Pacific Northwest. To learn more about the WPZ and Orca Relief's ideas for the zone, please see: www.orcarelief.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/
SeaWolf is an all volunteer, NW marine wildlife advocacy and education organization, focusing mainly on the Southern Resident Killer Whale population and other coastal NW species. www.projectseawolf.org