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Puget Sound Orcas Won't be Listed as Endangered

Tom Banse
06/26/2002

Save-the-whales groups vow to keep pursuing an endangered species listing for Washington's killer whales. This, a day after the National Marine Fisheries Service decided NOT to add the orca to the roster of creatures in danger of extinction. In Seattle, Correspondent Tom Banse has the decision and the reaction.

[SOUND: WHALE CHIRPING] THE REGIONAL BOSS OF THE FISHERIES SERVICE DOES NOT FOR A SECOND DISPUTE THAT THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST'S KILLER WHALES ARE IN DEEP TROUBLE.

Lohn: "There is a substantial risk that we will lose this population over the next 100 years."

THE KEY QUESTION FACING BOB LOHN AND HIS AGENCY IS WHETHER THE LOCAL WHALES ARE SOMEHOW SPECIAL OR DISTINCT FROM THE HEALTHY POPULATIONS OF KILLER WHALES ELSEWHERE IN THE NORTH PACIFIC. LOHN COULDN'T GET A CLEAR ANSWER ON THAT FROM A SCIENCE PANEL, SO HE RULED THE THREE PODS SEEN MOST OFTEN AROUND HERE ARE NOT A DISTINCT SUBGROUP AND WILL NOT GO ON THE FEDERAL ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST.

Lohn: "We're not free to invoke the Endangered Species Act just because we really, really care about a population and really, really want to do something about it. We still have to meet the legal requirements and, as I've discussed, this just doesn't pass that test."

THEN WHAT WILL IT TAKE ASK EXASPERATED WHALE ACTIVISTS. THEY NOTE THE RESIDENT WHALE POPULATION HAS DWINDLED TO 79 ORCAS AND THEY DESCRIBE THOSE WHALES AS STICKING TO THEMSELVES WITH A DISTINCTIVE DIET AND UNIQUE WHALE DIALECT. [SOUND: MORE WHALE CHIRPING] ACTIVIST GROUPS DEARLY WANT TO BRING IN THE BIG STICK REPRESENTED BY THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT. ORCA CONSERVANCY BOARD MEMBER FRED FELLEMAN HOPES A FEDERAL COURT MIGHT SEE THE FACTS DIFFERENTLY.

Felleman: "The fact that the Bush Administration doesn't get it, doesn't mean we have to stand by and watch the death count go forward. We have to leverage the existing legal system to the best of our ability. But that's not the time frame these whales need. There's a level of urgency that's necessary."

TODAY, A COALITION OF ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS HAS CALLED A NEWS CONFERENCE TO PRESSURE THE STATE LEGISLATURE AND GOVERNOR TO STEP IN, IN PLACE OF THE FEDS. SPEAKERS WILL ASK FOR TOUGHER STATE POLLUTION RULES AND INCREASED FUNDING FOR OIL SPILL PREVENTION AND SALMON RECOVERY MEASURES. SALMON PROVIDE WHALE FOOD. THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE SAYS IT'LL REEXAMINE THE KILLER WHALE'S STATUS IN FOUR YEARS. IN THE MEANTIME, THE REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR PROMISES MORE RESEARCH INTO THE POSSIBLE CAUSES FOR THE CHARISMATIC CREATURE'S DECLINE. THERE ARE LOTS OF SUSPECTS INCLUDING POLLUTION, FOOD SCARCITY, AND NOISE FROM BOATS. SPEAKING OF WHICH, THE WHALE WATCH FLEET COULD BE THE FIRST TO FEEL THE INCREASED PRESSURE TO DO SOMETHING. POSSIBLE CHANGES MENTIONED BY FEDERAL REGULATORS INCLUDE A REQUIREMENT FOR BOATERS TO STAY FARTHER BACK FROM THE WHALES, SHUTTING DOWN ENGINES AS THE ANIMALS PASS, AND GIVING TIME OUTS TO THE WHALES. THE OWNER OF TWO WHALE WATCH BOATS ON SAN JUAN ISLAND, BILL WRIGHT, SAYS HIS INDUSTRY HAS ALREADY ANTICIPATED THESE DEMANDS.

Wright: "Everything you just mentioned are things that we are already working on. Because of the precautionary principle we actually are proactive and do those things before they're asked of us."

WRIGHT SAYS THE BULK OF THE BOATS SWARMING AROUND THE WHALES IN THE SUMMER ARE PRIVATE PLEASURE CRAFT. FORTUNATELY, WRIGHT SAYS THEY TOO ARE LEARNING TO BEHAVE RESPECTFULLY. THE OWNER OF SAN JUAN SAFARIS ARGUES A PUBLIC ENERGIZED BY SEEING THE WHALES REPRESENTS THEIR BEST HOPE FOR SURVIVAL. I'M TOM BANSE IN SEATTLE.

01.23.18

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