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Dominica announces new protections for sperm whales

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Vaquita. Photo Thomas Jefferson

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blue whale

Whale fossil from Peru may have been heavier than blue whale

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Government Actions Will Harm Endangered Southern Resident orcas

Recent government actions in the Pacific Northwest are moving projects forward that would significantly harm the critically endangered Southern Resident orca community that lives off the western coasts of Canada and the United States. 

Despite objections from WDC and partner organizations, the US Navy is planning to implement their Northwest Training and Testing plan, which would increase the use of sonobuoys and number of training events within the coastal range of the Southern Residents.  These orcas spend a majority of their time during the winter and spring months off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.  Increased Naval activity and noise from sonar will disrupt important behaviors including foraging, socializing, and traveling.  Already stressed by declining stocks of salmon, more noise and activity in an important foraging area will significantly impact this fragile community.

Additionally, in Canada, the deadline for the final decision on the expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline is fast approaching.  The pipeline expansion would send hundreds of oil tankers per year through the critical habitat of the Southern Resident orcas.  Not only will this project greatly increase the noise and vessel traffic in this important area, but it will also put the Southern Residents at significant risk of an oil spill.  Their close social nature and small population size means that an oil spill would be devastating for these whales.  With only 80 left in the population, expanding the Trans-Mountain pipeline is essentially a death sentence for the Southern Residents.  Although Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has already signaled his approval of the pipeline expansion, the final decision deadline is December 19th, and several environmental and indigenous organizations in Canada have indicated they will take legal action to stop the expansion from moving forward.

The main threats to this fragile population are prey depletion, toxic contamination, and vessel effects (noise and harassment).  These threats create a cascade effect in a vicious cycle – without enough to eat, the whales burn through their toxic blubber reserves, and have to put more time and energy into finding scare food supplies in an increasingly noisy ocean.

Both projects will cause great harm to this unique population of orcas – the only population listed under the Endangered Species Act in the United States.  If we lose the Southern Residents, we lose an entire culture of orcas and an icon of the Pacific Northwest.  Increased noise and even the slightest chance of an oil spill in their habitat are risks we cannot afford to take. 

Want to help the Southern Residents? Learn about our current #MigrationNation campaign and be a voice for the orcas – demand that US Agencies remove four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington State to help restore a vital salmon run in the Pacific Northwest.  Taking down deadbeat dams and returning rivers to more natural conditions helps salmon, the ecosystem, and the Southern Resident orcas.  Don’t let orcas be dammed!