Feds agree to expand habitat protections for southern resident orcas

A southern resident orca leaps out of the water in Puget Sound. Credit: Center for Whale Research (April 2019)

SEATTLE (AP) — The federal government says that by October it will propose expanded habitat protections off Washington, Oregon and California for endangered southern resident orcas.

The announcement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in 2018 to make officials move more quickly to protect the endangered orcas.

The whales spend their summers in the waters between Washington state and Canada, but about two-thirds of the year they migrate and forage for salmon off the West Coast. The conservation group said the National Marine Fisheries Service had been dragging its feet in designating “critical habitat” for the whales in those foraging and migration areas.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must ensure that activities they pay for, permit or carry out do not harm such habitat.

The southern resident orca population is at its lowest in history. With 75 remaining, researchers have concluded that without action, this will be the last generation of southern resident killer whales. Watch Q13’s special orca report here.

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