Suzanne Potter / California News Service
MONTEREY, Calif. – On Monday, a coalition of conservation groups sent more than 105,000 signatures to the National Marine Fisheries Service asking the agency to speed up a plan to expand habitat protections for killer whales.
The Southern Resident orca spend their summers in protected waters near Puget Sound in Washington state, but in winter they roam down the Oregon and California coasts as far south as Monterey.
Giulia Good Stefani, staff attorney for Marine Mammal Protection Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says time is of the essence, because this whale species is on the brink of extinction.
“Historically data indicate there were a couple of hundred, but now we have 83 whales, which is approximately the same number of whales that we had when they were listed as endangered 11 years ago,” she says. “So, the population has completely plateaued and has not recovered.”
The groups want the feds to declare 9,000 miles of coastal waters as critical habitat as soon as possible, not in 2017 or 2018 as planned.
Good Stefani says the critical habitat designation would mean that certain activities in federal waters would be reevaluated and require an environmental assessment.
“There’s noise from shipping, there’s Navy sonar training and testing, and there’s fishing activities,” she says. “And all of those have impacts, direct and indirect, on the whales.”
The Southern Resident orca stick close to the shore because they feed exclusively on fish, especially salmon that migrate out of coastal rivers.
So, the conservation groups say they’d also like to see more inland protections for the salmon.