USA: Puget Sound orcas left off Endangered Species List

26th Jun 2002 The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Tuesday that it will not add Puget Sound's resident orcas to the federal list of endangered species.

A panel of scientists determined the three pods that spend much of the year off the coast of Washington state do not constitute a distinct subspecies, which means they do not meet a legal standard required for the endangered listing.

The fisheries service is, however, seeking more federal protection for the southern resident orcas. The agency is taking steps to declare the three pods as "depleted" -- a classification that could lead to stronger protections.

Bob Lohn, Northwest regional director for the fisheries service, says the government is concerned about a steep decline in the southern resident population over the past six years.

But Lohn says scientists need to know more about what's causing the whales to die before the orcas can be classified as endangered.

The population of southern resident orcas has declined 20 percent since 1996. There are only 78 left.

If that trend continues, the population would become extinct within the next 100 years.

The fisheries service plans to reassess whether to list the orcas as endangered within the next four years. In the meantime, scientists will continue trying to determine why they're dying.

There are several theories about what's causing the decline: water pollution, dwindling numbers of salmon (their main food source) and stress caused by whale-watching boats.

Story: www.katu.com