Are the orcas starving? Scientists say it’s not that simple

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The reported deaths this week of three more southern resident orcas have brought renewed urgency to efforts to save the critically endangered population of whales. Many scientists and policymakers are focusing on the orcas’ access to their main source of food, the Chinook salmon. Members of the orca population are appearing dangerously thin and malnourished. But is the drop in their numbers the result of a lack of Chinook? It is an increasing matter of debate among scientists. By Jeff Rice, Puget Sound Institute As the population of southern resident […]

The Orca Docs: When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

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This week we present “The Orca Docs,” a two-part series from our senior writer Christopher Dunagan. The series focuses on some of the issues related to proposed medical intervention for Puget Sound’s endangered orcas. The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in with medical care for distressed animals in the wild. Medical intervention has become routine for some endangered mammals, but scientists say Puget Sound’s resident orcas present a series of unique challenges and ethical questions. In […]

Debate over water quality standards takes a new turn

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Many people thought the issue of regulating toxic chemical discharges into Puget Sound was settled when the federal government forced Washington state to use stricter criteria, but the debate may be underway once again. By Christopher Dunagan An unlikely disagreement between state and federal authorities over water-quality standards has flared up again. Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to impose more stringent water-quality standards than those approved by Washington state. Now a petition from industry groups is causing the EPA to review its earlier stance. For years, […]

Orca task force releases recommendations

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By Jeff Rice The governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force released its final report and recommendations today, focusing on three key threats to Puget Sound’s endangered orcas: Lack of food, disturbance from noise and vessel traffic, and toxic contaminants. In all, the report makes 36 recommendations for recovering the fast-declining orca population, which now stands at 74 animals. “The extinction of these orcas would be an unacceptable loss,” reads the report, which identifies a wide variety of potential actions that will require extensive funding and long-term commitment on the part of […]

Task force narrows list of ideas to save killer whales from extinction

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By Christopher Dunagan The term “no silver bullet” has been heard again and again as dozens of experts from throughout the state examine ideas that might help avoid extinction for Puget Sound’s beloved orcas. The Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, created by the governor, is considering short-term actions — such as increasing hatchery production of Chinook salmon to help feed the whales. But it is becoming uncomfortably clear that there are no easy answers, no “silver bullet,” as the task force heads toward the finish line for drafting an […]

For declining orcas, food is fate

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The story of Puget Sound’s starving resident orcas has come into dramatic focus over the past two weeks. As the world watches an orca grieve for her dead calf, and tribes and federal agencies prepare to try to feed a dangerously emaciated three-year-old orca in Jpod, we look at how the lack of Chinook salmon is exacerbating the effects of toxic chemicals on these whales, creating a deadly one-two punch. Read the story from Bob Friel in Salish Sea Currents.

Governor signs executive order to protect orcas and Chinook

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By Christopher Dunagan for the Puget Sound Institute Worried that Puget Sound’s revered orcas are headed for extinction, Gov. Jay Inslee is calling for quick actions to help the whales — including boosting their food supply and reducing underwater noise that could disrupt their feeding efforts. Surrounded by state and tribal officials, Inslee on Wednesday signed an executive order designed to galvanize state agencies into action by the end of next month. The order also creates a new Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, which is mandated to develop a […]