In an unexpected move, the NMFS today announced that the Southern resident Orca Whale population would now be listed as Endangered Species, a move that was pursued by various groups including Project SeaWolf for many years. This listing finally addresses the petition submitted by a consortium of groups through the Center for Biological Diversity in May of 2001.
Many groups have been working on this effort since the mid 90s, and despite the submittal of a compelling, irrefutable report projecting the disappearance of the Southern resident group (J, K and L Pods) entirely within 30 (low end estimate) to 120 (high end estimate) years, the federal government - quite likely under the directive of the current presidential administration - was unwilling to acknowledge the biological distinctiveness of the Southern population. The consortium had even sued the government to secure that listing; now it seems that political pressure, and a declining popularity rating of the current administration's leaders, have succeeded where (to date) legitimate science might not have prevailed.
SeaWolf believes that researchers and leaders with the federal government's NMFS had long understood that the Southern stock deserved full protection afforded by an ESA listing, but those leaders where under the similar pressure that the government's own scientists working on global warming endured under this current national leadership. While our scientists might have been willing to suggest an ESA listing in the past, internal political pressures prevented that from occurring. In recent months, it is very likely that new international pressures, including the repeated defeats of efforts to open the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration, the focus on continued US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, corporate finance and lobbying scandals, etc. have placed the current administration under so much diverted scrutiny that NMFS officials became willing to progress with a listing at this time.
For that courage, the agency is to be commended. While an ESA listing will require much more scrutiny on matters related to coastal protection and habitat restoration, we will have to see what level of funding will be designated to support this listing. For more information about the listing, please link to the following NMFS site at NMFS/NOAA, and visit the Nov. 15 posting entitled 'NOAA Fisheries Service Announces Final Puget Sound Killer Whale ESA Listing'.
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