Springer Part Five

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This Seattle Weekly cover story features four Orca Conservancy Board Members and three Advisory Board Members.

FREE SPRINGER!

But while the Northwest pulled together to save one sickly whale, the remaining Puget Sound orcas face an uncertain future.

BY MATT VILLANO, Seattle Weekly – 7/26/02

Far to the north, where the water runs chilly and beds of bull kelp hug the rocky coast, the orca whales are back. Since the days of the Indians, members of northern and southern resident pods have returned to the area around this time of year, mostly to mate and feed. The whales called “killers” travel hundreds of miles from the open ocean to the area between Johnstone Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, spanning Canadian waters and our own, at the mouth of Puget Sound. Today they are as much a part of Northwest culture as Mount Rainier, the Space Needle, and traffic on the floating bridges.

This year, however, the whales’ home waters are a little colder than usual. First, while the population of the three southern resident pods that frequent U.S. waters continues to decrease, the only whale that anyone seems to care about is a wayward orphan from one of the northern groups, scooped from the polluted waters off Vashon Island this spring. Perhaps more alarmingly, the federal organization that governs local marine life refused last month to protect these clearly declining southern residents under the Endangered Species Act, a law that would have all but ensured their survival.

The issues present a complicated paradox—it was undoubtedly important to save an orphan poisoned by the effects of human overpopulation, but intervention diverted an unbalanced share of public interest, federal money, and media attention from the whales that needed it most. Now, as researchers celebrate the successful reintroduction of the whale known as Springer to her pod, many fear that it may be too late to save more than this one whale, and that without similarly aggressive intervention on behalf of the southern residents as a whole, the population could be headed for extinction within the next 50 years.

“That orphaned whale is a little messenger telling us that our orcas are in grave danger,” Ken Balcomb, who has studied the resident groups since 1976 and now serves as executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. “Instead of recognizing the breadth of this problem, learning from our mistakes, and trying to change the ways our presence negatively impacts the health of these whales, we’re ignoring the message and focusing on the welfare of the messenger.”

ALL FOR ONE

By now, the story of the Vashon orphan is as familiar as the saga of Microsoft. Nicknamed Springer by scientists, the whale was first spotted off of West Seattle in January. Clearly malnourished and suffering from a skin disease, the 2-year-old showed a particular fondness for floating logs and the Evergreen State ferry, frequently nuzzling against the boat when it was docked for the night. Scientists immediately identified the whale as A-73, so named for her birth order within her pod, a whale who lost her mother and a number of other family members in 2001.

Nothing captivates the human imagination like the struggle of a survivor, and the plight of this whale was no exception. “There’s no question that people were drawn to this truly remarkable individual,” says Helena Symonds, co-director of OrcaLab, a Canadian research organization on Hanson Island near Blackney Pass. “These are social creatures, and the notion that an animal (as young as Springer) could survive without its family for so long is pretty amazing.”

Springer’s story became the feel-good animal tale of the year, and thousands flocked to catch a glimpse for themselves. Lines on the Fauntleroy ferry were longer than anyone could remember in years. Kayakers and other recreational boaters ventured out in record numbers. Whale-watch outfits cashed in, too, chartering “See Springer” trips that sold out every time.

But as traffic around Springer increased, her condition worsened. Her skin disease spread from her mouth to her blowhole, she stopped eating, and she appeared lugubrious, even catatonic. When scientists determined that the whale could not get better without a change of scene, officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decided to intervene. NMFS freed up money from the Prescott Stranding Grant program and arranged to have the whale transported to a makeshift holding pen near Manchester for further tests and observation.

With the announcement of a federally funded rescue, private donations came pouring in, stoking the attention of local and national media. In Bremerton, The Sun covered the animal like a celebrity. Seattle papers and TV stations joined in with daily updates, clamoring on the editorial pages for a swift and painless effort. On June 13, the day NMFS came to capture the whale, KOMO and KING staged live feeds, broadcasting real-time WhaleTV all day long. Even Peter Jennings got in on the action, closing his national newscast that same night with a fluffy feature from the waters of Puget Sound.

 

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“People from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, were talking about this whale,” says NMFS spokesperson Brian Gorman. “It was like Free Willy all over again.”

On the one hand, this hullabaloo helped save Springer. Yet the glut of attention prompted a vicious cycle of public relations and spending on the governmental level—the more concerned about the whale people seemed to get, the more resources NMFS had to expend to handle the situation. On the day of the rescue, Gorman worked 16 hours straight. Sources add that the rescue cost more than $60,000—the single most expensive marine mammal intervention since the effort following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1988.

Eventually, of course, these efforts paid off, and researchers transported Springer up north, where she found her family. Gorman estimates that the entire rescue, rehabilitation, and release process cost NMFS $200,000 worth of federal Prescott money, $80,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, and at least $100,000 in corporate cash and in-kind contributions—a grand total of about $380,000. Considering that the same organization has never budgeted more than half this amount to research Puget Sound marine mammals of any kind, the figure seems exorbitant. Still, NMFS regional coordinator Bob Lohn says his organization did what it had to do to ensure that the orphan survived until she could be reintroduced to her northern resident pod.

“We had never done anything like this, so we didn’t know how or what to budget,” Lohn explains. “The way we looked at it, this little whale provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reintroducing a sexually mature female animal to its pod. We were prepared to do anything and everything to get that whale to safety.”

THE “DOUBLE STANDARD”

As Lohn and Gorman wrestled with the Springer issue, a team of NMFS biologists at the regional National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) office in Sand Point was grappling with another orcarelated issue—the future of the southern residents. It’s no secret that this population has declined from 98 to 81 since 1995, and local environmental organizations petitioned NMFS last year to protect the whales formally under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Listing these whales as endangered would protect their habitat and force a cleanup of Puget Sound, empowering special interest groups to sue over noncompliance.

In theory, ESA protection was a no-brainer; the whales were in danger, and they deserved to be saved. On paper, however, scientists ran into some trouble. An 11-member NMFS Biological Review Team had to prove that the group in question had declined beyond repair and that it was a “significant” species or subspecies or a distinct population segment. Team members agreed the population had declined precipitously, but since current taxonomy classifies all orcas as a single species, they vacillated over the “significance” of the southern residents to the species overall. Were the southern residents genetically distinct? Would the 200-member northern resident population re-colonize the habitat if their southern neighbors died off? Biologists claimed there wasn’t enough information to answer questions like these and therefore decreed that labeling the group a distinct population segment was problematic without more specific data.

“If the law says there are only certain categories under which you can list a species for protection, you can’t say, ‘Let’s list anyhow and cheat this one time,'” says Marilyn Dahlheim, a biologist with the federally funded National Marine Mammal Laboratory who also served on the review team. “Of course we wanted to save these whales, but the law is the law, and we had a responsibility to stick to it.”

What followed was perhaps the lowest point in the southern residents’ march to extinction: Citing the need for further research in the areas of genetics, distribution, and ecosystem relationships, NMFS declined to list the southern residents under the ESA, instead granting them “depleted” status under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. Though this option requires NMFS to prepare a conservation plan and a list of site-specific management measures designed to promote recovery, the decision basically affords no new protections for the 81 whales.

Lohn announced the decision on June 25. The following day, front-page stories in local papers reported the announcement baldly. One local television station ran a feature “investigating” the decision, focusing on a report from the Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance that alleges whale-watch traffic negatively impacts a whale’s sonar ability to hunt for food. (Lohn vowed to crack down on what he said were “meddlesome” whale-watch boats that break the 100-foot buffer zone required by the MMPA.) There were no follow-up stories, no daily reports, and no editorial page efforts to spark intervention.

“It was a one-day story,” says Michael Kundu, whose nonprofit organization, Project SeaWolf, was involved with the Springer rescue from the very beginning. “If everyone was so interested in saving whales, this decision should have gotten tons more attention than it did. Nobody really focused on the

 

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significance of what the government was saying. After the Springer (rescue), this was a total double standard.”

Kundu was not alone in his outrage; environmentalists across the board likened the NMFS decision to a death knoll, attacking the media for silent complicity and assailing Lohn’s attack on the whale-watch industry as a witch hunt. Brent Plater, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the ESA petition, said the decision was a “new low in the annals of the Fisheries Service,” adding that the Orca Relief Citizen’s Alliance report about boat traffic was ill-founded and that the whale-watch industry has policed itself in recent years more than NMFS enforcers ever have.

Fred Felleman, a board member of the Orca Conservancy in Seattle, took these criticisms a step further, saying NMFS “scapegoated” the whale-watch industry for a problem much more far-reaching and costly to address. Felleman accused NMFS of “covering up” environmental abuses the government perpetrates: “Most of the conditions in Puget Sound can be attributed to cargo ship traffic and the military, which believes it’s cheaper to leave pollutants than clean them up,” he ranted. “Do you think the government wants to take on big business, or that in a time of war, it would harass the Navy over some dead whales? Think again.”

Still others insisted that if NMFS had spent nearly as much time and money researching southern resident orcas as it had to rescue Springer, questions surrounding single-species classification would have disappeared years ago. A Seattle Weekly investigation uncovered that NMFS has not funded major distribution or abundance research in the Pacific Northwest since 1976, when it awarded Ken Balcomb a $30,000 grant for an extensive photo-identification effort that still serves as the bible for data on the nearly 300 northern and southern resident whales. In the areas of genetics and taxonomy, expenditures have been equally insignificant—NMFS sources decline to give specifics but admit the agency has spent no more than $50,000 overall.

Even today, the $130,000 that NMFS recently earmarked for research on northern and southern resident orcas pales in comparison to the $450,000 set aside to study orcas in Alaska (still a small amount considering there are an estimated 1,200 whales there). Furthermore, most of the current money for studying orcas in the Pacific Northwest is diverted from funds to research endangered chinook salmon, which means the efforts must pertain to predator-prey relationships, only one facet of data on complex ecosystem relationships.

“Much of our most current data on orca whales has been collected by private individuals who do it out of concern for the survival of the species,” says (Orca Conservancy’s) Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, Ken’s son, who also has contributed whale research to a number of environmental organizations. “For whatever reason, it’s clear the U.S. government simply does not want to get involved in spending major money on studying and saving these whales.”

HELP FROM ABOVE

Across the border, things are a little different. Over the years, the dearth of American study on orca whales has enabled Canadian researchers to dominate research and conservation. A majority of the scientists who currently publish about orcas are from Vancouver Island, and experts from the Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Science Centre were the ones to receive Springer from NMFS and monitor the reintroduction to her pod. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)—British Columbia’s version of NMFS—listed both northern and southern resident populations under the province’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife three years ago. At the federal level, the Canadian House of Commons recently passed a Species at Risk Act, which would grant the orcas even further protection once ratified by the Senate later this year.

Most Canadian officials are hesitant to comment directly on the U.S. decision to decline southern resident orcas protection under the ESA, though many privately expressed shock, saying they were “appalled” at the U.S. for not considering a group of animals that frequently migrates back and forth over the border a priority. Graeme Ellis, a DFO research technician who has spent decades working with Ken Balcomb, says that overdevelopment in the region already has stressed the whales and to deny them protection only exacerbates these problems. Patrick Higgins, political and economic relations officer with the Canadian Consulate General here in Seattle, adds that with fragile animals living in a fragile ecosystem, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“In Canada, we don’t wait for 100 percent perfect science before we decide that a population is about to crash,” he explains. “The history of marine mammal management all over the world is that the moment we tell ourselves everything is fine, it really isn’t.”

 

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Ellis cites the cooperation involved with resolving the Springer situation as an example of how things should work: NMFS agreed to rescue the whale; Canada signed on to take custody and reintroduce the animal to its family. But much of the major scientific burden with Springer now lies on Canada.

Here in Seattle, local politicians are trying to force bilateral protection through international cooperation and planning. In a May 31 letter addressed to Lohn and Dr. John Davis, DFO’s regional director general, Washington’s U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray called for a set of cooperative international “protocols” to guide decision making with respect to orphaned whales in the future. Cantwell reiterated this plea in her June 1 remarks at the University of Washington’s Orca Recovery Conference.

“I recognize there are existing treaties between the countries on the subject of marine management,” she said, referring to the 1998 Pacific Salmon Treaty. “But cooperation between the U.S. and Canada is a major component in the overall recovery (of southern residents) . . . because there’s no doubt they are in trouble.”

There are other opportunities for cooperation, too. Unbeknownst to most Americans, an orphaned 3-year-old male from the southern resident population has been hanging around Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island since late last year. American researchers say that because the whale, identified as L98, has attracted considerably less attention than its Puget Sound counterpart, neither NFMS nor DFO has felt pressure to intervene. Still, they add, now that Springer has proven that reintroductions can work, an extensive lobbying effort to return the sexually mature orca to its genetically strapped population could force the governments to unite and act.

Another potential unifying issue is water pollution. Peter Ross, a research scientist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sydney, B.C., has spent years studying the differences in water quality from the Johnstone Strait to Tacoma Narrows and says toxin levels near Seattle and Bremerton are as much as 10 times those near Victoria and Vancouver. Because northern and southern resident orcas frequent the same general area, and are protected as endangered under Canadian law, the provincial government technically could put pressure on NMFS to clean up the Sound. Ross admits, however, that international politics make the odds of any such pressure fairly slim.

“Considering that we know we’ve got to work (with NMFS) down the road, I’d say that sort of adversarial encounter is unlikely. The last thing we want to do is alienate the American government and lose any semblance of cooperation for the tasks ahead.”

BACK TO BASICS

How, then, can the southern resident orcas receive the kind of attention and protection afforded to Springer? Within hours of the NMFS decision, Plater and his colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity had filed a lawsuit against the government, an action that will force further review. The next day, Pam Johnson, field director at People for Puget Sound, held a press conference at Myrtle Edwards Park during which she outlined steps for a calculated backdoor attack to gain the local orca pods a chance at survival.

Johnson’s strategy assumes that if the federal government won’t grant southern residents the protection and funding they need to survive, perhaps the state government will. Her approach hinges on lobbying Gov. Gary Locke and state representatives to appropriate emergency funding for research to show that the whales are genetically unique. It also includes calls for increased efforts to clean up Puget Sound’s Superfund sites and a formal request for a rescue tugboat to help prevent oil spills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“These are small steps the state can take to give the orcas a fighting chance,” Johnson says. “If we are in the business of saving whales, someone has to be putting money, resources, and energy into this (dwindling) population.”

Other environmental groups have vowed to wage other battles. At the Surfrider Foundation in Friday Harbor, regional coordinator Kevin Ranker says he hopes to continue lobbying for tighter enforcement of the Shorelines Management Act of 2000, a law designed to protect the habitats of the fish orcas eat that has been paralyzed by lawsuits. At Friends of the San Juans, also in Friday Harbor, executive director (and Orca Conservancy Board Member) Stephanie Buffum says she plans to redouble efforts to research toxins in the Puget Sound food web, studying pollutants in fish as tiny as smelt and sand lance, which serve as meals for many of the salmon that local orcas eat.

(Orca Conservancy Advisory Board Member) Dr. David Bain, an affiliate assistant professor in UW’ psychology department, plans to stage a public relations campaign that publicizes environmental efforts. Bain masterminded the Orca Recovery Conference in June and says he and co-coordinator Will Anderson

 

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already are planning a follow-up conference for sometime early next year to further explore issues such as whale-watch interference, orca genetics, and the movement to tear down the Elwha Dam.

“There are countless issues in and around the Sound that affect our southern residents,” he notes. “As far as we see it, especially after it seems everyone’s attention has been diverted to A-73, you can never talk or raise awareness about them too much.”

Experts at NMFS have said that the government plans to conduct further research and re-evaluate its decision about ESA protection in 2006. And already, Dahlheim admits, members of the Biological Review Team have begun considering data they didn’t have during their first assessment. This process, however, may be nothing more than a formality—never in the ESA’s history has the government reversed a previous decision not to protect.

Whatever happens, as environmentalists and lawmakers wrangle over ways to address the dwindling numbers of southern resident orcas, former Secretary of State (and Orca Conservancy Board Member) Ralph Munro says it’s important for every Puget Sound resident to rally around the whales the way they rallied around Springer. Munro led the fight in the 1970s to stop the capture of orcas for commercial purposes in Puget Sound; for him, the survival of the southern residents is an issue of local pride. From the porch of his house on San Juan Island overlooking Haro Strait, Munro says the orcas are an integral and irreplaceable part of local culture; in losing them, he states, we’d lose a bit of ourselves, as well.

“Through all of this, we must remember that dating back to the Indians, these whales are a part of everything that is the Northwest,” says Munro. “I only hope we can save them before it’s too late.”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. A73 (Springer) connects with A51, her aunt.
Photo/video courtesy of OrcaLab, Michael Harris and Orca Conservancy

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7/25/02

A73 Meets A51

By KOMO Staff & News Services

The Northwest’s favorite orphan baby orca may have found a new mother.

The two-year-old orca – rescued from Puget Sound and reintroduced to Canadian waters – seems to have struck up a relationship with a 16-year-old female.

It’s early yet but scientists report the older whale, known as A51, has taken a motherly interest in the baby, named A73 but better known as Springer.

Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium says it’s clear A51 is looking out for the baby. When Springer tried to reach his boat, he says, A51 kept her with the pod instead.

The ‘A’ designation comes from the whales’ birth order in their family group.

 

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Friday, July 26, 2002

Orphan Orca May Have Found a Pod

A bond seems to be developing between Springer and a female adult

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

VICTORIA, B.C. — An orphan orca transplanted to her native Canadian waters from Puget Sound continues to swim with a 16-year-old killer whale, who seems to be taking a maternal interest in her. The 2-year-old orca, known both as Springer and as A73 — for her birth order in her family group — appears to have struck up a relationship with a whale scientists call A51.

“It’s not just that A73 has latched on to a group of whales,” said Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium.

“It is clear that A51 is looking out for her.”

A51 kept Springer with the pod despite Springer’s efforts to reach his boat for a visit, Barrett-Lennard said. Researchers are hoping the young whale will join a pod of northern resident killer whales to live out her days in the waters off British Columbia. She was captured in June in the busy waters of Puget Sound, where she strayed after her mother died.

While in Puget Sound, A73, who would normally belong to a tight social group, became increasingly attached to boats, raising fears that she or boaters would be injured. She was also underweight and had a skin condition. Under a joint Canadian-U.S. rescue project, Springer was nursed back to health and released into her home waters July 14.

Since her release, she has been monitored to see whether she will rejoin a pod and whether other whales will accept her. Springer and A51 were seen together on July 18 and were believed to be heading north with other whales. This week, Barrett-Lennard finally spotted the A5 pod, which includes A51, east of Telegraph Cove.

When he saw A73, “she was acting just like a calf with A51,” he said. Springer was bumping into the older whale and rubbing up against her, he said. They were also with A61, the 8year-old brother of A51, and another male, A60.

For Springer to stay with the pod for that length of time, she would have had to be associated with another whale, Barrett-Lennard said.

August 2002

 SPRINGER UPDATE FROM ORCALAB

http://www.orcalab.org

OrcaLab News – August 2, 2002

Looking good!

Springer (A73) is showing every sign of adjusting successfully to her new life in the wild. When we saw her last, two evenings ago, close in front of OrcaLab heading north, she was travelling closest to her natal matriline, the A24s – with her “adopted” matriline, the A25s, not far behind. This is a very interesting and probably significant development. From the beginning, Springer’s progress in reintegrating with her community has been incremental. At first she remained at some distance from the other orcas; then she followed the A12s & A35s into Johnstone Strait & eventually mingled with them, associating most closely with a young male, A55, before heading into the rubbing beaches with the whole group; separating again, she spent the next day (July 16th) worrying everyone with scary “boat behaviour”, then remained alone at the “top” of Blackfish Sound much of the following day until being picked up by the A36 brothers and escorted back into the Strait; not long after, she met up with the A25s – fellow orphans A51 & A61 – and stayed very close to them for over a week.

During that time it became clear that 16 year old A51, who may have lost her first baby two years ago, was paying very close attention to Springer & acting for all the world like an attentive mother. On two occasions she

 

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was observed actively intervening as Springer headed off towards boats. One report came from researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard (described in our 7.24 update). The other report came from Brian Faulkner, the skipper of the whale watching vessel Lukwa when he was at the “top” of Blackfish Sound watching the parade of orcas passing by in the evening. He noticed a very young member of a group of 4 orcas with small dorsal fins a couple of hundred meters away suddenly turn and head towards the Lukwa – immediately, the largest female in the group chased after the youngster, dove quickly underneath, & literally hurled her back towards the others! The event was so startling that Brian thought it must have been A51 & A73. We felt confident that it must have been, as the timing fitted our own observation of the progression of the whales as they headed “out” a short time earlier. In the days that followed, we became increasingly confident that Springer’s impulse to approach boats was coming under control. Just the same, we were quite worried at the prospect of a commercial fishing “opening” in Johnstone Strait on July 30th& hoped the whales would elect to go elsewhere. They didn’t – in fact, they spent the whole of that day & the next in the Strait, casually travelling back & forth amongst a fleet of gill net vessels and their drifting nets.

Springer, so far as we know, approached no vessels at all, and indeed, off Cracroft Point in full view of the Orcalive audience, negotiated her way between a sports fishing vessel and a whale watching vessel without a pause. We felt like celebrating! Very interestingly, at that time she was travelling ahead of A51 & A61, mixed in with a group of other orcas that included her grandmother, A24. As the whales headed into the setting sun Springer launched her little body into a full breach… and then she did it again, & again! An hour later, when the orcas passed in front of OrcaLab, she was still with them – close to, though not right beside Granny… and with A71 & A64, her mum’s siblings. The “new” association with her natal group was a logical one for Springer, as A71 had already been spending time close to A73… in fact, from soon after A51 & A61 took her in tow. Needless to say, we are enormously encouraged by these developments, and though we are not ready to pronounce Springer’s reintegration complete, we do believe she is making great progress. In the 3 short weeks since her return to home waters, Springer has been in the company of more than half of the 200+ northern resident orcas, 21 of her community’s 34 matrilines, and families from all 3 clans. It seems to us that we been seeing clear signs of bonding and acceptance as Springer makes her way back into her world… perhaps we have also been witnessing rites that go with reunion. As ever, though not without anxiety, we eagerly await the orcas’ return, and the next chapter in Springer’s tale.

Friday, August 2, 2002

Springer Sticking Close to New Mom

Researcher is encouraged by what he’s seen of orca, her pod in 2 weeks

By PEGGY ANDERSEN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The orphan killer whale that was returned to Canadian waters after she strayed into Puget Sound last winter has been with the same pod, and the same surrogate mother, for the past two weeks. At one point, the adult female appeared to prevent her young charge from approaching a researcher’s boat — a habit that had raised safety concerns when the juvenile orca strayed into busy waters off Seattle.

“We’re very pleased about this relationship,” said the researcher, Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium, who has been monitoring the orphan since her July 14 release east of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

“We’ve no idea if it will stick … but it’s as good an outcome as we could imagine at this point.”

It’s not quite three weeks since U.S. and Canadian officials arranged the little whale’s relocation to her home waters. She was captured near the Vashon Island ferry dock June 13, fattened up and treated for some minor health problems in a nearby net pen, and then sped north on a high-speed catamaran ferry July 13. She was released less than 24 hours later.

The orphan female, a 2-year-old dubbed A73 for her birth order in Canada’s A-pod and known as Springer, hooked up with the nine-member pod July 18. Since then, she’s been with the A5s, a subgroup that uses the A-clan dialect, as they feed on summer salmon runs. She appears to have bonded with a 16year- old female called A51, also known as “Nodales.” (A73 has also bonded with her eight-year-old aunt, A64.)

“It seems not to be just a case of Springer latching on to her. It’s kind of a mutual thing,” said another veteran killer-whale researcher, John Ford of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The boat incident clinched that impression for Barrett-Lennard.

 

 

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He’d been taking photos of the two whales last week as they swam about a half-mile from the rest of the pod. A73 is much harder to identify now that her satellite tags have fallen off, and photos will be used to detect distinctive markings for identification purposes.

After ignoring the boat for 30 to 45 minutes, A73 “started swimming towards me,” Barrett-Lennard said. Well aware of her history of too-close-for-comfort encounters with boats, he moved away quickly.

“As I did, I looked back and I could see A51 had come after her, followed her towards me,” he said. “The two of them surfaced about halfway between their original position and my boat. … I could hear some kind of squealing. After sort of tussling there for 10 or 15 seconds, the two of them turned and swam back” to their original location.

“I was pretty convinced that A51 followed A73 and prevented her from moving too far away,” he said. “I have no idea if she was trying to prevent her from approaching me or from leaving her.” But he said it’s the kind of behavior observed between mothers and calves. “You’ll see the mother pass in front of the calf and turn it in the direction she wants.”

For him, the incident was evidence of “reciprocalness in the relationship. It convinced me this is not just a case of A73 finding a placid female she’s following around.”

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Aaahhh, summer.

Time for sun, fun and urgent messages from the blue sea.

Like this one from the deep:

Dear Robert,

Wassuup?

It’s me. Springer! The kid orca.

I’m not all washed up.

Not to rub a fin in your face, but I proved you WRONG!

I’m behaving myself. Staying away from people. Avoiding boats.

Sticking with my own kind.

I’ve found a cool whale gang near Canada – the A-5s.

They’re a splash. And I even get their whale lingo, eh.

Got a new big sister, too. Name’s Nodales. She’s 16, cool and digs me.

But the reason I’m writing is because, well, I need your help.

As the whole world knows, folks have been spending lots of money to save me.

Something south of a half-million bucks.

And then THIS.

Did ya hear?

President Bush gave the Navy the green light for a powerful whatchamacallit.

A sonar. A $300 million gizmo.

Problem is, this doodad uses low-frequency waves that can hurt orcas and other marine life. Even kill us.

 

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Talk about a slap in the blowhole.

So I’m hoping you’ll help spread the word.

Thanks, Springer.

 

Dear Springer,

Glad to hear you may have been right.

Seems as if you’ve found a nice whale posse. Hope it works out.

This sonar development, however, doesn’t sound good.

I did some checking around and learned a thing or two.

The Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service just granted the Navy a five-year exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Basically, the exemption allows “harassment” of marine animals by the new, intense sonar.

The Navy calls the device the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System.

A real mouthful.

The fisheries service issued a statement, saying that with proper monitoring and safeguards, “marine mammals are unlikely to be injured by sonar activities.”

Yeah, right. Sounds like that flaky Hollywood agent who said you had the chops to be “the next Keiko.”

Anyway, the government says you don’t have to worry yourself sick about the sonar system because it’ll probably just affect “small numbers.”

Common sense suggests otherwise.

After all, you rely on sound for communication, so it only figures that sonar interference could be harmful.

Low-frequency sonar from the government system travels several hundred miles.

I also hear its transmissions are on a frequency used by many whales, including your friends, the humpbacks.

Uncle Sam admits that each of the sonar’s 18 speakers puts out a signal as loud as 215 decibels.

That would be like me standing next to a twin-engine F-15 fighter jet — at takeoff.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.07.02 PMOuch!

Isn’t it true that whale eardrums explode at 180 decibels?

And remember what happened two years ago in the Caribbean, when the Navy did a submarine- detection drill using a strong sonar device?

Within hours of the exercise, at least 16 whales and two dolphins beached themselves.

Some of those whales died, and scientists found hemorrhaging around the brain and ear bones. That suggested exposure to loud sounds.

Of course, the Navy promises it will stay 12 nautical miles away from the coast, and keep away from key biological areas.

But like so many other whales and marine mammals, you are so darn curious, Springer.

From now on, you had better swim clear of subs.

If you sense a Navy vessel coming, skedaddle, OK?

It would be a shame if, after all the cash humans used to help you as an orphan, you got your bell rung by some pricey war toy.

Talk about irony.

Can you see the headline to that whale tale?

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 130

“Springer Sunk by Sonic Boom.”

No one wants your blowhole to get slapped like that.

Maybe humans will try to help you, perhaps by writing the government. In any case, be safe, girl. It’s a dangerous ocean out there.

 

July 2003

The True Test – Will Springer Return Safely to Johnstone Strait After Her First Winter Out to Sea? And If She Does Make it Back, What Does That Mean for Luna?

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.08.46 PM7/10/2003

All’s Fine With Springer

By GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

SEATTLE – A Canadian orca expert, Graeme Ellis, has confirmed reports that Springer has returned to British Columbia waters with her pod. She appears to be in good condition.

That’s good news to everyone involved in last summer’s capture and release, said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. A professional photographer took several pictures Wednesday of a juvenile orca swimming with the A-11 pod off the northern point of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

The still photos captured what appeared to be a typical orca doing typical orca things, but excited researchers with the Orca Conservancy said Wednesday that the open saddle patch on the left side of the orca – that size, shape and style – could only belong to one whale.

A professional photographer captured pictures of an orca, believed to be Springer, off Vancouver Island. “We’ve looked at the photos and we’re convinced this is Springer,” said Dr. Paul Spong, OrcaLab director. The orca was first sighted by the Naiad Explorer around 11 a.m. Wednesday morning to the west of Numas Island in Queen Charlotte Strait. She was amidst a large group of about 30 orcas.

Scientists said judging from the pictures, Springer appears to be in good health. The Canadian government has yet to say that the orca is indeed Springer; Canadian fisheries agents are taking a closer look at the photos and are expected to make an official confirmation Thursday.

Springer, known officially as A-73, spent weeks last summer alone after her mother died. Separated from her pod, she had frolicked among the boats in busy Elliott Bay in Seattle. She thrilled ferry riders but had whale experts fearing for her life. She was underweight and had developed a skin condition.

In an unprecedented joint effort, Canadian and U.S. government and private groups joined forces, captured the orphaned whale and nourished her back to health, eventually reuniting her with her great-aunt’s pod.

After an 11-hour ride aboard a jet-powered catamaran, Springer arrived at her new Canadian home in Dong Chong Bay at Telegraph Cove, Hanson Island, just north of Vancouver Island, B.C. Springers’ great aunt appeared to have adopted Springer, becoming her surrogate mother. They were spotted heading north with a large group of orca families.

It was a daring, dangerous and highly publicized effort, and now it appears it worked.

“I’m quite confident Springer has made it,” said Spong.

Researchers have been keeping their eyes peeled for the last year for Springer. They spent a lot of time and money getting her out of Elliott Bay and back with her family and now they think it all paid off.

News may impact fate of Luna

Pictures of a healthy whale with its natural pod may be proof of the most successful, human-led, killer whale intervention ever.

 

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 131

“It certainly is very encouraging for the whole idea that you can take a young whale or an orca that has been out of his or her social context for some time and put the whale back into the proper context and hope that things will go well,” said Spong.

The news may impact whether Canadian and U.S. officials attempt to reunite another orphaned orca in Canadian waters. Luna, known to scientists as L-98, somehow became separated from his family as a one-year-old. He turned up alone in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island in July 2001.

Last year, the orca started nosing up to boats and people began petting, feeding and even swimming with him. Luna currently swims near the area’s public dock, playing with boats and people who sometimes pet or play fetch with the orca using balls.

The Canadian government has attempted to stop human interaction with Luna by posting warnings that it is illegal to disturb a wild marine mammal in Canada.

In an effort to stop the interaction with Luna, officials posted warnings that it is illegal to disturb a wild marine mammal in Canada.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Orca Rescued From Puget Sound is Spotted off Coast of Vancouver Island

By The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A killer whale rescued from Puget Sound was spotted yesterday safe and sound with her family off the coast of northern Vancouver Island, indicating a successful reunion with her pod.

The orca, whose official name is A73 but is known as Springer, was rescued by scientists last summer from the busy waters of Puget Sound in Washington state. She had strayed there after her mother died, but was far from her family and became increasingly attached to boats. She was also underweight and had a skin condition.

Under a joint Canadian-U.S. rescue project, Springer was nursed back to health and transported to Telegraph Cove, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

She joined up with her family when her great-aunt’s pod of resident killer whales swam through Johnstone Strait.

Springer now looks healthy and appears to have kicked the unsafe habit of hanging around boats.

WHALES

Springer Safe, But What Future Does Luna See?

The orphan orca rescued from Puget Sound is swimming with her pod, but another young killer whale remains isolated in Canadian waters.

Christopher Dunagan

Bremerton Sun (WA) Staff

July 11, 2003

Whale researchers are rejoicing over the return of Springer, the rescued orphan killer whale, to Canadian waters, where she has been swimming with her orca relatives.

But many are asking a hard-edged question about another young whale. Why can’t the same kind of rescue be launched for Luna?

Luna, a member of a whale family, or pod, that frequents Puget Sound, remains isolated in Nootka Sound off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. He has lived there without contact from his own kind for two years.

Observers say the young orca is acting more and more like a caged animal or perhaps like a pet.

While Springer’s dramatic rescue from central Puget Sound and return to her family in Canada has become legend, Luna is getting attention by performing tricks for humans.

Many researchers had doubts about whether Springer would survive the winter.

“The winter is often when we lose animals,” said Graeme Ellis of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans who has been studying killer whales for 30 years. “I think orphans have the deck stacked against them.”

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 132

Springer, or A-73, was spotted Wednesday by the whale-watching boat Naiad Explorer as she swam with about 30 orcas in Queen Charlotte Strait in British Columbia.

Nearby was her late mother’s aunt, Yakat or A-11, the matriarch of the pod. Yakat seemed to take Springer under her wing last July and stayed with her through October.

Researchers don’t know where the whales go in winter, because they aren’t tracked during the wet season. “What we do know,” said researcher Paul Spong, who runs OrcaLab off northern Vancouver Island, “is that Springer has truly succeeded in making it back home and rejoining the company of her own society.” Others celebrating were Bob Lohn, regional director of NOAA Fisheries.

“By any measure, this rescue, rehabilitation and return have been an unprecedented success,” he said. “It is the event we have been waiting for all winter,” said John Nightingale, president of Vancouver Aquarium, another rescue partner.

Springer captured the world’s attention last year when she began to hang out in the ferry lanes between Seattle and Vashon Island. After her health started failing, she was captured, treated and rushed by high-speed catamaran to the north end of Vancouver Island, where she was released near her closest relatives.

Many whale supporters hope something similar can be done for Luna, but the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has decided against capture so long as the young orca remains healthy.

“We are extremely concerned about Luna,” Spong said. “DFO needs to … do something before it’s too late.” In fact, the Canadian agency might be dropping its support for the only whale-watching education program in Nootka Sound, said Marc Pakenham of the Luna Stewardship Project.

Pakenham said Canadian officials assured him of funding to continue the project this year, but then withdrew support after eight days.

Canadian officials with knowledge of the funding were unavailable for comment Thursday, according to Lara Sloan, spokeswoman for DFO.

Pakenham said he’s worried about Luna, who is “showing signs of depression,” such as repeatedly bumping into boat fenders.

As for the people, “the atmosphere is becoming more circus-like this year.”

Two people have been arrested for harassing Luna, and others continue to bother the whale when authorities are not around, he said.

“Luna is either going to be injured or killed by a boat or someone will recommend that he be taken into captivity for his aggressive behavior,” Pakenham said.

Michael Harris of Orca Conservancy in Puget Sound says the answer is to capture Luna and place him in a net pen near his present location but within earshot if his pod comes by. Private funding is available, he said.

“I was hopeful the local community would take on the stewardship of this animal,” he said. “The only thing you can say is that you’re putting a nail in his coffin every time you interact with him.”

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.15.34 PM

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 133

Seattle Times Editorial Staff

Tuesday, July 14, 2003

One Lonely Orca With Something to Prove

Even the most cynical must have entertained a chuckle at the news that Puget Sound’s darling of the summer of ’02 was back.

The story of Springer, the not-so-little orphan orca, is of an international gamble that this baby, who separated from her pod after her mother apparently died, could successfully be reunited with her non-immediate relatives. The lonely orca had become sickly and took to socializing with boats.

But last week, when Springer glided into Queen Charlotte Strait off northern Vancouver Island with 30 other orcas after a winter in the ocean, she proved it could be done; the first successful reunion ever.

Last summer, Springer’s vulnerability and membership in perhaps the most iconic of Northwest species played on the hearts of children and federal bureaucrats alike. The U.S. and Canadian governments cooperated in a scheme that rehabilitated Springer in Puget Sound and then moved her to waters off Vancouver Island.

After hanging back but following her aunt’s pod, she appeared to be adopted by a 16-year-old female who sharply discouraged Springer’s interaction with boats.

Springer’s success provides an important counterpoint to that of Keiko, star of “Free Willy,” whose years of captivity clearly have made the 26-year-old’s reintroduction to the wild much more complicated. Two summers ago, he finally left the familiarity of his pen near Iceland and swam to Norway, where he continues to swim alone, minded by supporters who shoo curious boaters away. A major obstacle, however, is that his family pod is unknown.

Canadian officials decided it’s best not to intervene in the case of another solitary young orca, L-98. Nicknamed Luna, the orca is apparently thriving off Nootka Sound on West Vancouver Island and he might yet reunite naturally with his mother, who is still living.

Much about Springer’s case is exceptional, but the reunion project has confirmed for scientists many theories about these mammals and inspired new ones.

 

Monday, July 14, 2003

Springer’s Success Inspires Whale Experts

By Eric Sorensen
Seattle Times staff reporter

The successful reintroduction of a Canadian killer whale rescued last year from Puget Sound has orca advocates pushing to have another orphaned whale brought back from Canada to the U.S.

The Canadian orca A-73, or Springer, was spotted Wednesday safe and sound with her family off northern Vancouver Island. Whale experts say this is proof positive that she has successfully reunited with her pod after a joint Canadian-U.S. effort rescued her last summer from waters off the Vashon Island ferry dock.

“By any measure this rescue, rehabilitation and return have been an unprecedented success,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region.

Now several groups are calling on officials to repeat the process with L-98, or Luna, a young male who has been swimming alone in Nootka Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island, since 2001.

With his fellow southern residents dwindling in numbers, orca advocates have been pushing to see him brought back to his subgroup, the L-pod.

“Given the success of Springer and the physical health of Luna, the two countries need to rise to the occasion before September, when sightings of L-pod begin to become less frequent,” said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy.

 

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 134

But U.S. officials say it is the Canadians’ call to make, and Canadian officials have been reluctant to undertake a reintroduction. They remained so yesterday.

A panel of experts assembled by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the agency responsible for L-98, earlier this year concluded it would be too risky to try reuniting L-98 with his pod.

“A-73 coming back doesn’t change that risk,” Lara Sloan, a spokeswoman for the Canada fisheries department, said yesterday.

While A-73 appeared sick and possibly undernourished in Puget Sound, L-98 is healthy, active, eating well and in a good, clean environment with plenty of food, according to the Canadian fisheries department. The agency said he might also reunite with his mother naturally, whereas L-98’s mother was dead when her reintroduction was considered.

Marc Pakenham, executive director of the Veins of Life Watershed Society in Victoria, said L-98 appears to be depressed, distractedly bumping up against the fenders of boats out of Gold River. Meanwhile, tourists are getting increasingly aggressive about approaching him, risking a propeller injury to the orca and a domestication that will make a reintroduction more difficult.

Moreover, he said, the Canadian fisheries department just this week cut funding for his group to continue a project of discouraging people from approaching the orca.

So there are no resources going into protecting the whale,” Pakenham said.

 

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.24.20 PM

 

 

 

Monday, July 14, 2003

Thoughts on Fatherhood During a Springer Day

By ROBERT L. JAMIESON Jr.
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST

A fishy story, right – guys with ticking biological clocks? Who knew?

When a recent study said men 35 or older have half the chance of fathering a child within 12 months compared with more fertile guys a decade younger, I yawned. Then I clicked over to “SportsCenter.” Why rush to fatherhood when the bachelor seas are so wide open for, um, exploration?

Whenever friends plop their tiny bundles of joy on my lap, I enjoy the infant giggling and cooing, the “Uncle Robert” shtick.

But after that first drool dribble, that first diaper leak, I’m outta there – off to the safe confines of a barstool with my drinking posse.

I never really heard the slightest tock of the DBC – the Dude Biological Clock – until my newshound pal Jeff sent me on an unexpected journey of discovery with two words. “She’s back!” he said. A nearby TV screen confirmed his utterance – and my worst fears. I saw the dorsal fin. The telltale black-and-white coloring.

Hell, it can’t be – Springer?

“So what do you have to say for yourself now?” Jeff asked. Can you say busted?

Springer was the fish – yeah, I know, a mammal – which made the entire Seattle area go bonkers last summer.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 135

After her mom died, Springer was orphaned in Puget Sound. An international team of scientists huddled to do everything their fine minds could think of – including spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – to reunite Springer with her orca kin.

One problem. Springer loved people. She enjoyed nosing up to state ferries and small boats. Scientists feared that her behavior – Springer kisses, some locals called them – would get the young whale injured or worse. Springer Schminger, I wrote at the time.

I figured people were getting all frenzied for nothing, wasting valuable dollars for one silly fish.

Let nature take its course.

Leave Springer alone to the fates.

There was no guarantee the whale repatriation would work. And no orca, I felt, should get such a crush of media attention when kids in our region are starving.

So ridiculous was L’Affaire Springer that I anticipated the whale’s demise. I jotted down jokes about selling Springer burgers on Alki, about roasting Springer kabobs over an open fire.

Now I’m forced to eat blubber.

Springer – A-73 in science-speak – was spotted last week with her family off northern Vancouver Island. One environmental expert said her anniversary appearance means the rescue, rehab and reunion effort I had panned was an “unprecedented success.”

“She’s fat and happy,” adds Michael Harris of the Orca Conservancy. “We’ve been holding our breaths.”

I suppose that in these days of negative news all over the place, we all should be heartened by any story of a happy homecoming.

That’s one reason I filled this space today with thoughts on Springer rather than news to give you the blues. The tiny whale defied the odds by sticking with her family after having been solo for so long. On top of that, she survived a year in the wet yonder with her new pals. The scientists and environmentalists who pushed for the unlikeliest of reunions were inspiring. They forged into uncertain scientific terrain and stared down critics like me.

They held on to this hunch: If Springer could be successfully reunited; the event could pioneer future reunions and help preserve the species.

Springer has thus far vindicated their efforts (though she could still vindicate me by pulling a fast one by breaking away and sidling up to a ferry). Scientific progress, whether it occurs in the sea or outer space, whether it involves mammals or mechanical beasts of human creation, is laudable.

More than anything else, Springer’s family tale has unexpectedly hit home – as it did for thousands of people across the region and country – stirring fatherly feelings in a fellow who has never minded flying solo.

Just yesterday, with Springer on the brain, I caught myself glancing at a baby magazine at the checkout line. Later, at a coffee shop, I was playing peek-a-boo with a kid in a stroller. The baby’s mom said words that previously would have sent me out the door like an Olympic sprinter: “You’d be a great dad.”

I felt something different this time. It just might be the nascent sounding of an alarm clock signaling the time has come for a 33-year-old bachelor to take the plunge. That thought doesn’t scare me. But I need to take a cue from Springer first. I’ve gotta find the pod-mate of my dreams.

 

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 136

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.27.44 PM

 

 

 

 

A73 back in Johnstone Strait with her family after seven months out at sea. Her successful repatriation may open the door for another orca family reunion – that of the wayward L98 from Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident population.

July 9, 2003

‘We Are Very Happy’

By Kevin Reece, KOMO 4 News (ABC Seattle)

VANCOUVER ISLAND – Scientists tell KOMO 4 News that Springer, the once-orphaned orca who was repatriated with her family pod in the waters of Vancouver Island, has returned alive and well after several months at sea.

A professional photographer took several pictures of what he believed was the juvenile orca, known officially as A-73, traveling with the A-11 pod near Port Hardy at the northernmost point on Vancouver Island.

The photos were sent to Dr. Paul Spong at OrcaLab on Hanson Island who made a positive I.D. He says the sighting means the orca survived 7-months in the open ocean and is still swimming with her re-adopted family.

“This is great. This is a great experiment that is a success. We are very happy,” said Michael Harris with the Orca Conservancy.

“What a test for a small orca like that who’s spent so much time in a ferry lane in urban Puget Sound, swimming about a mile a day, to keep up with her family traveling 75 miles a day in the big ocean. She’s now back. She’s with her family now, she’s fat, she’s happy. We’ve been holding our breath for a long, long time and this is great news.”

Springer did spend several weeks alone in Puget Sound last year swimming back and forth between West Seattle and Vashon Island frolicking in the wakes of pleasure boats and ferries until U.S. and Canadian scientists agreed to intervene. They worked together to lift her from Puget Sound, place her on a fast-moving ferry for a 10-hour trip to Johnstone Strait, and re-introduce her in her native range.

Springer’s apparent success also gives some orca groups ammunition to seek a second attempt. Luna, a lone male orca, continues to frolic with boaters in Vancouver’s Nootka Sound. As recently as last May Canadian scientists decided not to interfere and let nature take its course. The Orca Conservancy for one hope that Springer’s return proves the same course could be taken with Luna to re-introduce him to his native L-pod.

“We hope that we give Luna the same chance that we gave Springer. Let Luna hear his family. If you give these animals a chance to repatriate with other orcas, away from humans, if you give them a choice between humans and orcas, every time they choose other orcas.”

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 137

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ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 139

December 2004

THE BIG PICTURE…

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Orcas Will Be Protected Under ESA

Conservationists Hail Decision to Protect Orcas, Demand Bush Protect Endangered Species Act

Press Release, Dec. 17, 2004
Contact:
BRENT PLATER (Center for Biological Diversity) 415-572-6989 (cell)
PATTI GOLDMAN (Earthjustice) 206-343-7340 x 32

The National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) today proposed to protect Puget Sound’s Southern Resident orcas under the federal Endangered Species Act, the nation’s strongest conservation law. The orcas declined by 20% over five years during the 1990s, and Endangered Species Act protection insures that NMFS will have the world’s best conservation tools at its disposal as work begins to recover the whales from the brink of extinction.

“This is a victory for sound science, the orcas, and the people of the Pacific Northwest,” said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s decision comes one year after a U.S. District Court found unlawful the Bush administration’s June 25, 2002 announcement that the orcas are not significant enough to protect. NMFS will now take public comment and put final protections in place for the whales within one year.

“I’m glad NMFS has joined with the State of Washington and Canada in deciding to protect these whales,” said Ralph Munro. “Like many natives of the Pacific Northwest, I have spent my life growing up with these whales, and I know that they will benefit from the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act.”

“The Endangered Species Act allows us to look forward and roll up our sleeves and do what’s needed to insure these orcas survive,” said Patti Goldman, attorney with Earthjustice.

“With only 85 Southern Resident orcas left on the planet, one major oil spill could cause them to go extinct. The habitat protection afforded them by the Endangered Species Act is critical if we are to protect the ecological integrity of our marine environment,” said killer whale biologist and Northwest Director of Ocean Advocates Fred Felleman.

The Endangered Species Act is a federal law providing a safety net for wildlife, plants, and fish that are on the brink of extinction. Endangered Species Act protection will result in many new safeguards for the orcas, including the creation of a binding recovery plan, protection for the whales’ critical habitats, and assurances that all federal projects will protect the whales before the projects can proceed. These safeguards could lead to improvements in oil spill prevention, vessel traffic, toxic pollution, and activities that harm salmon, herring, and other fish eaten by the orcas.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 140

“But just when the orcas are poised to reap the benefits of the Endangered Species Act, the developers and the politicians they give money to are proposing to repeal the law altogether,” said Plater. “We are obligated to insure that the orcas survive for future generations, and therefore we must not allow a repeal of the protections for our whales.”

“It’s time to move away from the battle to obtain protections for the orcas and make the Endangered Species Act work for the orcas,” observed Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound. “We must work together to prevent further toxic pollution and oil spills in Puget Sound.”

“The Endangered Species Act should not be a partisan issue,” said Michael Harris of Orca Conservancy. “In fact, the ESA began under the Nixon administration, and our state in particular has a rich history of Republicans helping the whales. But now the Act itself has become endangered. Almost everyone wants the best possible protection for these orcas, and that’s what the ESA does. This is a great Christmas gift for the orcas.”

“This is an important victory for orcas and the biologically rich waters they frequent in San Juan County.

We must act to preserve this totemic species for our future generations,” said Stephanie Buffum, executive director of Friends of the San Juans.

Background on Southern Resident Orcas

The Puget Sound resident orcas are an extended family of whales made up of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts uncles, cousins, and grandparents. They have stayed together for many years, always loyal to, and supportive of, each other. They use a unique language to communicate with each other. They differ from many of their wilder cousins in that they tend to stick together, close to shore and eat mostly salmon, herring and other fish instead of hunting seals and other whales at sea. These whales are considered among the most intelligent animals in the world, hunting as a team and taking turns babysitting the young whales. Unfortunately they are also one of the most imperiled, which is why scientists and conservationists requested they be protected.

For more information:
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org
http://www.earthjustice.org

 

Transboundary Puget Sound Orcas Win Threatened Listing

SEATTLE, Washington, December 17, 2004 (ENS) – A group of 84 killer whales that lives on

both sides of the Canada-U.S. border will be proposed for a listing as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, federal fisheries officials said Thursday. These whales, known as the Southern Resident population, spend several months each year in Washington state’s Puget Sound where they are risk from pollution and vessel traffic.

At a news conference in Seattle, officials of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) said they had received a petition to list the whales under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but decided in 2002 that listing was not warranted, although they recognized that these whales were “in trouble.” Commonly called killer whales, they are also called orcas, after their scientific name, Orcinus orca.

The listing decision stems from a lawsuit filed in December 2002 by Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of Ocean Advocates, Orca Conservancy, Friends of the San Juans, People for Puget Sound, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, Karen Munro, and Earth Island Institute.

Canadian groups Sierra Legal, the Georgia Strait Alliance and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee joined their American allies in the court challenge.

The conservationists’ lawsuit argued that once the agency determined that this orca population is discrete and in danger of extinction, it had a legal duty to extend Endangered Species Act protection. The suit charged that the agency acted illegally by superimposing its own value judgment and deciding that the Southern Residents are insignificant.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 141

Bob Lohn, head of the NOAA Fisheries northwest regional office, says that because of the way scientists classify all killer whales as a single world-wide species, the Southern Resident population did not meet the criterion of biological “significance” under the ESA.

On December 17, 2003, the federal district court in Seattle agreed with the conservationists. The court overturned the NOAA Fisheries decision that found the Southern Resident orca population was not “significant” and so did not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The court gave NOAA Fisheries 12 months to file a revised decision, which was announced Thursday, just in time to beat the deadline.

“Our recovery efforts are already under way for these killer whales,” said Lohn . “We’ve had workshops and consulted with experts on development of a conservation plan, essentially identical to the recovery plan that an ESA listing would require.” A draft of the conservation plan is expected to be available for public review by February 2005.

The conservation planning resulted from NOAA Fisheries’ designation of the Southern Residents as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in May 2003.

The whale population peaked at 97 animals in the mid-1990s and then declined to 79 in 2001. It currently stands at 84 orcas. The count does not include two calves born to the group this year. They will be officially included if they show up in the 2005 census.

In April, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission added the Southern Resident orcas to the list of state endangered species.

“This is a close-knit family of highly intelligent whales that have been living cooperatively with each other in Puget Sound for thousands of years,” said Patti Goldman, attorney with Earthjustice. “The federal government refused to protect this remarkable family of whales until the people of Puget Sound came together, and, with one voice, demanded it.”

Canadian conservationists were delighted with the listing decision. “Canadians share with our American neighbors the responsibility of protecting these magnificent animals and their habitat from various threats, including toxic pollution, boat noise and harassment and declines in their prey, primarily Chinook salmon,” said Peter Ronald of the Georgia Strait Alliance.

“This ESA designation will provide the strongest available protection for our imperilled orcas, requiring a comprehensive recovery plan to address these threats,” Ronald said. “Both of our countries must do everything possible to reverse the decline of these the most famous whales in the world.”

The Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance (ORCA) based in Friday Harbor, an island in the San Juan group on the U.S. side of the border, says the three pods spend up to eight months of the year in the San Juans.

“We are encouraged scientists are now aware of the damage that has been done to this specific orca population.” says ORCA founder Mark Anderson. “However, more emphasis needs to placed on protecting these whales on a daily basis.”

Anderson says ORCA commissioned three studies that show the proliferation of whale-watching boats in the area is a major factor in the whales’ decline. On some days observers have counted 140 boats from dawn to dusk. Even though federal whale-watching guidelines urge watch boats to slow down, be respectful and not approach closer than 100 yards, the whales still suffer from the intrusions.

“Everyone who loves the orcas can help these whales survive. They can respect their privacy, restore them the ability to find fish, and stay off boats.” says Dr. Birgit Kriete, executive director of Orca Relief. “Land based whale watching is the only sure way to do this.”

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 142

The Puget Sound resident orcas are an extended family of whales made up of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, Earthjustice explains. They use a unique language to communicate with each other. They tend to stick together close to shore and eat mostly salmon, herring and other fish instead of hunting seals and other whales at sea.

These whales are among the most intelligent animals in the world, hunting as a team and taking turns babysitting the young whales. Many of these whales have lived together for decades. Several of the females are believed to have been part of the same family group for 90 years.

The proposed ESA listing determination of this population as threatened will be published in the Federal Register next week and will be open for public comment for 90 days. Two public meetings are scheduled to allow interested parties to present their views: in Seattle on February 17 and at Friday Harbor February 28.

 

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November 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Government Agrees to List Puget Sound Orcas as “Endangered” Species

By LISA STIFFLER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

After years of legal challenges, Puget Sound orcas have been granted federal protection as an endangered species, officials announced this morning.

Citing new information and analysis, NOAA Fisheries Service officials acknowledged that the local killer whales were at risk of extinction and reversed an earlier decision not to give the iconic orcas protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By granting protection “we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northwest region, in a prepared statement.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 143

Environmental groups celebrated the decision and its potential benefits for the species. They were pleased that the orcas were deemed endangered, as compared to the lesser designation of threatened, as originally proposed.

“This listing is long overdue but it’s the right decision,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. “We know that these whales are in serious trouble, but the good news is this will give a real boost to make sure the actions are taken to make sure that these whales survive.”

Scientists have identified numerous factors putting the local orcas at risk of disappearance. There has been a decline in the amount of salmon – their favorite food source – from historic levels. The killer whales are contaminated with industrial pollutants that can reduce fertility and make them more vulnerable to disease. Some research has indicated that boat traffic can disturb the highly social animals.

The iconic killer whales have been on a population rollercoaster, plummeting in the early 1970s when they were rounded up for aquariums, then building and dropping over the decades, for unknown reasons. Their numbers dropped precipitously from the mid ‘90s until 2001 when they reached a recent low of 79 orcas. They currently stand at 89. The agency recently set 84 to 120 orcas as the target population.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife determined the orcas were endangered under state regulations last year. The Canadians have also recognized the population as vulnerable to extinction.

In 2003, NOAA Fisheries Service proclaimed the orcas “depleted” under a less protective regulation than the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups challenged that decision and a federal judge told the agency to reconsider their decision.

Now the government will need to devise a plan to recover the orcas. The new designation will also require federal agencies to review their actions to make sure they won’t hurt the orcas.

Officials with NOAA Fisheries Service said they will continue working to boost the Sound’s salmon stocks and that other agencies will address exposure to toxic chemicals and vessel traffic.

 

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NOAA Magazine || Commerce Dept.

FISHERIES AGENCY LISTS PUGET SOUND KILLER WHALES AS ENDANGERED

Nov. 15, 2005 – A group of killer whales that visits Washington state’s Puget Sound every summer has been listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries Service announced today.

Known officially as Southern Resident killer whales, they were proposed a year ago for “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act.

“Recent information and further analysis leads our agency to conclude that the Southern Resident killer whale population is at risk of extinction, and should be listed as endangered,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northwest region. “By giving it protection under the ESA, we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations.”

A species listed as threatened is at risk of becoming endangered; an endangered species is one at risk of extinction.

The Southern Resident killer whale population experienced a 20 percent decline in the 1990s, raising concerns about its future. Many members of the group were captured during the 1970s for commercial display aquariums. (Click NOAA image for larger view the group of Southern Resident killer whales resting near the San Juan Islands, Wash. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 144

The group continued to be put at risk from vessel traffic, toxic chemicals and limits on availability of food, especially salmon. It has only a small number of sexually mature males. Because the population historically has been small, it is susceptible to catastrophic risks, such as disease or oil spills.

Southern Resident killer whales already are protected, as are all marine mammals, by a 1972 law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, under which the whales were officially listed as a depleted stock more than two years ago. A proposed conservation plan required by the depleted designation was published last month laying out the steps needed to restore the population to full health.

The new listing under the Endangered Species Act will require federal agencies to make sure their actions are not likely to harm the whales. NOAA Fisheries Service said its ongoing efforts to restore salmon stocks in Puget Sound should benefit the whales. Other federal agencies’ efforts are likely to focus on toxic chemicals and vessel traffic.

The population peaked at 97 animals in the 1990s and then declined to 79 in 2001. It currently stands at 89 whales, including a solitary male that has taken up residence in a small inlet in British Columbia.

Although researchers have collected more than 30 years worth of information on the Southern Residents, agency biologists said there are major gaps in knowledge, such as where the animals go when they’re not in local waters. Because killer whales may live up to 90 years in the wild, existing data doesn’t cover even one full life span for older animals. Research by NOAA Fisheries Service scientists to fill these gaps will continue, the agency said.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitats through scientific research, management and enforcement.

NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

 

EarthJustice Press Release

Puget Sound Orcas Finally Protected Under the Endangered Species Act

Whales protected by court order over resistance from the Bush administration

November 16, 2005

Seattle, WA – The National Marine Fisheries Service announced that Puget Sound’s Southern Resident orcas, or killer whales, will be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The orcas have been listed as endangered, meaning they are in danger of going extinct. The orcas declined by 20 percent over five years during the 1990s, and Endangered Species Act protection insures that NMFS will have the world’s best conservation tools at its disposal as work begins to recover the whales from the brink of extinction.

The decision, announced Tuesday, comes two years after a U.S. district court found the Bush administration violated the law on June 25, 2002 when it announced that the orcas are not significant enough to protect.

“This is a close-knit family of highly intelligent whales that have been living cooperatively with each other in Puget Sound for thousands of years,” said Patti Goldman, attorney with Earthjustice. “This will give us the will and the tools to take the actions that will allow them to survive.”

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 145

“With only 89 Southern Resident orcas left on the planet, one major oil spill could cause them to go extinct. The habitat protection afforded them by the Endangered Species Act is critical if we are to protect the ecological integrity of our marine environment,” said killer whale biologist and Northwest Director of Ocean Advocates Fred Felleman.

The Endangered Species Act is a federal law providing a safety net for wildlife, plants, and fish on the brink of extinction. Endangered Species Act protection will result in many new safeguards for the orcas, including the creation of a binding recovery plan, protection for the whales’ critical habitat, and assurances that all federal projects will protect the whales before the projects can proceed. These safeguards could lead to improvements in oil spill prevention, vessel traffic control, toxic pollution, and activities that harm salmon, herring, and other fish eaten by the orcas.

“Southern Resident killer whales have been integral to the ecological, social, and economic well being of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years,” said attorney Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Providing the Southern Residents the protections of the Endangered Species Act ensures that we protect these whales for future generations.”

“This listing is long overdue but it’s the right decision,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. “We know that these whales are in serious trouble, but the good news is this will give a real boost to make sure the actions are taken to make sure that these whales survive.”

Background on Southern Resident Orcas

The Puget Sound resident orcas are an extended family of whales that live together in matriarchal family units. They use a unique language to communicate with each other. They differ from transient orcas in that they tend to stick close to shore and eat mostly salmon, herring, and other fish instead of hunting seals and other whales at sea. These whales are among the most intelligent animals in the world. Unfortunately they are also one of the most imperiled, which is why scientists and conservationists requested they be protected.

The listing of the orcas under the Endangered Species Act make it only the fortieth species to be added to the list of federally protected species since the Bush administration took office. Protections were extended to all 40 species only after federal courts ordered the government to act. In spite of its steadfast opposition to protecting the orcas, the regional head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Bob Lohn, today changed his tune and finally admitted, “By giving it protection under the ESA, we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations.”

*******

Regional Contacts:

Ralph Munro (360) 791-1887

Mike Sato (People for Puget Sound) (360) 336-1931

Fred Felleman (Ocean Advocates) (206) 595-3825

Stephanie Buffum (Friends of the San Juans) (360) 378-2319

Contact:Patti Goldman (Earthjustice) 206-343-7340 x 32

Brent Plater (Center for Biological Diversity) 415-572-6989 (cell)

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Government Gives Orcas a Shield Puget Sound’s ‘Local’ Whales Receive ‘Endangered’ Status

By LISA STIFFLER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

In a move that surprised and pleased environmentalists and whale enthusiasts, the federal government declared Puget Sound orcas “endangered” Tuesday, triggering the most protective actions and requirements legally available.

The decision comes at a time when laws safeguarding orcas and other vanishing creatures have come under attack by some federal lawmakers. Tuesday’s announcement underscores their importance, environmentalists said.

“This listing is long overdue, but it’s the right decision and we’re really happy,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 146

“We know that these whales are in serious trouble,” she said. “But the good news is this will give a real boost to make sure the actions are taken to make sure that these whales survive.”

The Endangered Species Act requires the government to devise a recovery plan for the orcas and to identify and safeguard “critical habitat” necessary for their survival. This could trigger a renewed push for the cleanup of contaminated hot spots in the Sound, environmentalists said. They also speculated that restrictions could be tightened on whale-watching boats.

Under the act, federal agencies also must review their actions to make sure they won’t hurt the orcas. Concerns have been raised by the potential harm caused by Navy sonar tests.

And whale lovers are hopeful that more money will flow toward research and recovery. Sen. Maria Cantwell secured $1.3 million in last year’s budget for studying the whales.

The effort to secure Endangered Species Act protection for the local orca population was launched more than four years ago. Federal officials rejected protection under the act three years ago, but a legal challenge forced them to reconsider. In December the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it was seeking “threatened” status for the orcas.

New research and analysis highlighting the precariousness of their survival led to the stronger endangered designation, said officials with the fisheries service, which is responsible for protecting orcas and other marine life.

By declaring them endangered, “we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the fisheries service, in a statement.

The region’s killer whales have been on a population rollercoaster, plummeting by the early 1970s when they were still being rounded up for aquariums, then building and dropping over the decades, for unknown reasons.

Their numbers dropped precipitously from the mid-’90s until 2001, when they reached a recent low of 79. They currently stand at 90, according to the Center for Whale Research, a Friday Harbor-based scientific group.

The federal agency recently set 84 to 120 orcas as the target population.

“Because the population has such a small number of sexually active males in it, a catastrophic event – an oil spill, a chemical spill – could really make a huge difference in the population,” said Brian Gorman, spokesman for the fisheries service.

“The fact that the population is small always worries a biologist,” he said.

Scientists have identified many other factors that put the local orcas at risk of disappearance. There has been a decline in the amount of salmon – their favorite food source – from historic levels. The killer whales are contaminated with industrial pollutants that can reduce fertility and make them more vulnerable to disease. Research has indicated that boat traffic and other manmade noise can disturb the highly social animals.

In 2003, the fisheries service proclaimed the orcas “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has less power to save the whales. Officials argued that the local population was not unique and thus could not qualify as endangered.

But the weaker designation did result in a proposed conservation plan for the orcas, which was released last month. This will be modified to become the requisite recovery plan, Gorman said. Tuesday’s announcement also could reinvigorate calls to reunite an orca called Luna that’s related to the local population but has spent the past few years alone on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. An effort to capture and reunite the young male orca with its family was derailed in 2004. A local tribe opposed aspects of the effort.

And the announcement has inspired an even more vocal defense of the Endangered Species Act and an act by the late Sen. Warren Magnuson that limits the flow of crude oil to Puget Sound refineries.

Members of the U.S. House and Senate have proposed laws revamping and softening protections for wil creatures and places, though the fate of the legislation is uncertain.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 147

But Tuesday’s news elicited cautious optimism in even the more skeptical environmental activists.

“If we don’t do something completely stupid like gut the Magnuson Act or release some toxic load, it looks like nature has given us this second chance,” said Fred Felleman, northwest director of Ocean Advocates, an environmental group.

“Things are looking up,” he said. “This is a good day.”

 

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Local Orcas Listed as Endangered

11/16/05
PRESS RELEASE:

The Southern Resident killer whales have been listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries Service) announced the listing Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2005. The listing will require federal agencies to make sure their actions are not likely to harm the whales. NOAA Fisheries Service said its ongoing efforts to restore salmon stocks in Puget Sound should benefit the whales. Other federal agencies’ efforts are likely to focus on toxic chemicals and vessel traffic.

A year ago, the whales were proposed for “threatened” status under the ESA. A species listed as threatened is at risk of becoming endangered; an endangered species is one at risk of extinction.

“Recent information and further analysis leads our agency to conclude that the Southern Resident killer whale population is at risk of extinction, and should be listed as endangered, ” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northwest region. “By giving it protection under the ESA, we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations. ”

The Southern Resident killer whale population experienced a 20 percent decline in the 1990s, raising concerns about its future. Many members of the group were captured during the 1970s for commercial display aquariums.

The group continued to be put at risk from vessel traffic, toxic chemicals and limits on availability of food, especially salmon. It has only a small number of sexually mature males. Because the population historically has been small, it is susceptible to catastrophic risks, such as disease or oil spills.

Southern Resident killer whales already are protected, as are all marine mammals, by a 1972 law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, under which the whales were officially listed as a depleted stock more than two years ago. A proposed conservation plan required by the depleted designation was published last month laying out the steps needed to restore the population to full health.

The population peaked at 97 animals in the 1990s and then declined to 79 in 2001. It currently stands at 89 whales, including a solitary male that has taken up residence in a small inlet in British Columbia.

Although researchers have collected more than 30 years’ worth of information on the Southern Residents, agency biologists said there are major gaps in knowledge, such as where the animals go when they’re not in local waters. Because killer whales may live up to 90 years in the wild, existing data doesn’t cover even one full life span for older animals. Research by NOAA Fisheries Service scientists to fill these gaps will continue, the agency said.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving the nation’s living marine resources and their habitats through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

 

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 148

Killer Whales Will Be Protected As Endangered

11/16/05

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today proposed to protect Puget Sound’s Southern Resident killer whales under the federal Endangered Species Act, the nation’s strongest conservation law. The orcas declined by 20% over five years during the 1990s, and Endangered Species Act protection ensures that NMFS will have the world’s best conservation tools at its disposal as work begins to recover the whales from the brink of extinction.

“This is a victory for sound science, the killer whales, and the people of the Pacific Northwest,” said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “However, if Congress continues on its path to gut the Endangered Species Act, the best tools available to protect the killer whale will be ripped right out of the hands of the scientists and resource managers in the Pacific Northwest.”

Today’s decision comes nearly two years after a U.S. District Court found unlawful the Bush administration’s June 25, 2002 announcement that the killer whales are not significant enough to protect.

The final rule differs from the proposed rule announced nearly one year ago by listing the Southern Residents as “endangered” rather than “threatened.” An “endangered” listing provides stronger, more immediate protections to the killer whales than a “threatened” listing.

“Southern Resident killer whales have been integral to the ecological, social, and economic well being of the Pacific Northwest for nearly all of human history,” said Plater. “Providing the Southern Residents the protections of the Endangered Species Act ensures that we can give back to these whales and insure their survival.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

PATH TO PROTECTION

May 1, 2001: Twelve environmental groups petition National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list Puget Sound orcas as “Endangered.”

June 25, 2002: NMFS decides not to list orcas under Endangered Species Act, decides to protect under Marine Mammal Protection Act instead.

Dec. 18, 2002: Nine environmental groups and individuals sue in federal court, challenging decision not to declare the orcas “Endangered.”

May 29, 2003: NMFS determines that the orcas are “Depleted” under Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Dec. 17, 2003: U.S. District Court judge rules in favor of environmentalists, tells NMFS to reconsider listing decision.

April 3, 2004: State Department of Fish and Wildlife lists orcas as “Endangered.”

Dec. 16, 2004: Fisheries service announces plan to list orcas as “Threatened.”

Nov. 15, 2005: Fisheries service declares local orcas “Endangered.”

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About orcaconservancy

Orca Conservancy is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working on behalf of orcinus orca, the killer whale, and protecting the wild places on which it depends. Successful Petitioner and Litigant in historic U.S. District Court case to list Southern Resident orcas as "Endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act -- the first-ever federal protection for the population. Leader in the Springer Project, the first-ever successful translocation and reintroduction of a wild killer whale, a rescue that captured the attention of the world.
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