On May 1, 2001, a scientific petition was finally submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS - now known as NOAA) to request that southern resident killer whales be re-classified under the Endangered Species Act. The petition was prepared by the Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org), who led a coalition of environmental and scientific groups in the filing of this petition.
Signatories to this petition included Project SeaWolf, along with Friends of the San Juans, American Cetacean Society, People for Puget Sound, Washington Toxics Coalition, the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club, Orca Conservancy and the Center for Whale Research.
The submission of this petition cumulated a 2-year process of research and collaboration among many different groups, working toward the resolution of the issues contributing to the decline of regional orca stocks. A synopsis of the petition included the belief that the Southern Residents could be sustained, if the protective provisions of the ESA are put into place. As a discrete and significant population segment, the Southern Resident killer whale is a listable stock under the federal Endangered Species Act. Threats facing this stock of whales are not adequately addressed by existing regulatory mechanisms, and as such, the petition was submitted, requesting that this genetically distinct stock of whales be recognised as being currently endangered throughout its entire home range.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) compiled a list of recommended actions in their petition, which can be read in its entirety from http://www.sw-center.org/swcbd/species/orca/index.html
1. Increasing funding for field and laboratory research will be essential to learning more about the Southern Residents before they are extirpated. Funding is also needed to promote the conservation and recovery of the Southern Residents. Many activities can be undertaken with relatively small investments that will provide conservation benefits to both the Southern Residents and the ecosystem upon which the Southern Residents depend. The following recommendations should be funding priorities:
· Funding for an enhanced and coordinated stranding network.
· Funding for shore-based observations of vessel and whale interactions.
2. Habitat destruction is affecting the survival of the Southern Residents by altering the ecosystem in which they live, and also by destroying important habitats for their preferred species of prey. Perhaps the most effective way of preserving the Southern Residents would be to insure that current areas of suitable habitat are maintained and degraded areas are restored. Some priorities for habitat preservation for the Southern Residents include:
· Protecting Puget Sound herring and forage fish habitat. Protect and restore estuarine, riparian, and shoreline habitats.
· Support NMFS’s Technical Review Teams working on salmon recovery. Reducing the source of contaminants is crucial to preserving the Southern Residents. In addition to the funding needed to address the pollution problems that were noted above, additional pollution strategies should be undertaken to insure the survival of the Southern Residents.
3. Reducing the source of contaminants is crucial to preserving the Southern Residents. In addition to the funding needed to address the pollution problems that were noted above, additional pollution strategies should be undertaken to insure the survival of the Southern Residents:
· Review NPDES permits to insure water quality is suitable for Southern Residents. Clean up and remediation of contaminated sites.
· Coordinated efforts to reduce and respond to oil spills.
· Reintroduction of captive Southern Residents. Reduce impacts of whale watching
· Support decisions to eliminate the use of the most harmful chemicals.
The federal government now has 90 days to either reject the petition or convene a group of biologists to review it, issue an initial finding, and then following this finding, they have a full year to decide whether to initiate a changing in the ESA status of the population. It is hoped that the stock receives either a ‘threatened’ or preferably, an ‘endangered’ status listing under federal law. SeaWolf will continue to report on the outcome of the 90-day finding period when additional details are available.
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