Give Endangered Whales Protected Habitat


Target: Will Stelle, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, National Marine Fisheries Service

Goal: Expand federally protected critical habitat for endangered killer whales

The National Marine Fisheries Service recently announced that it will consider expanding protected habitat for the endangered Southern Resident population of killer whales that live off the West Coast.  If approved, it would extend Endangered Species Act protection to the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The proposal is a critical step toward recovery and will help the whales avoid extinction. Urge the Fisheries Service to expand the Southern Residents’ critical habitat based on new scientific data, and help save these highly intelligent mammals from extinction.

Critical habitat designations prevent the federal government from undertaking or approving activities that reduce an area’s ability to support an endangered species. Studies reveal that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to increase their population as those without this protection.

The Fisheries Service listed the Southern Residents as endangered in 2005. The agency has already protected portions of the population’s summer habitat in Puget Sound, but critical offshore areas were recently identified by using satellite data to track the whales’ patterns. New research shows that the orcas travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to feed on migrating salmon.

Despite nearly a decade of federal protection, the Puget Sound’s orca population remains very small, and stands at approximately eighty individuals. The major threats to this tiny community are decreased prey availability, pollution and contaminants, and effects from vessel traffic and sound. These killer whales are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world, due to the high levels of toxic chemicals that accumulate in their tissues.

The proposal will be open for comment for 60 days, until late June 2014, and the Fisheries Service has announced plans to conduct scientific and economic studies of the expansion’s impact. The agency is required to determine whether the proposed expansion is warranted by Jan 16, 2015. Urge the Service’s West Coast Regional Administrator, Will Steele, to ensure that the expansion is granted in order to save these mammals from extinction.


Dear Administrator Steele,

I am writing to urge you to expand the Southern Resident killer whales’ critical habitat off the West Coast. Despite nearly a decade of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, this population of whales remains very small, at approximately eighty individuals.

New scientific research, including satellite tracking data, shows that the orcas travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring. An expansion of critical habitat is warranted for the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

An expansion will be a critical step toward population recovery and it will help these whales avoid extinction. I expect the National Marine Fisheries Service to honor its mission of preserving oceanic wildlife, and to expand the critical habitat designation for the Southern Resident killer whales.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Robert Pittman via Wikimedia Commons

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