Fewer Orcas to Watch this Month in WA
SEATTLE, Wash. - June is Orca Appreciation Month in
Washington, but the orca population is dwindling. The future of this
rare whale is caught up in the battle over salmon recovery in the
Northwest, because salmon are orcas' main food source.
Two federal reports - one examining the Columbia and Snake rivers, the
other about California's Sacramento River - have come to opposite
conclusions about whether dams on these rivers kill enough salmon to
affect the orcas. Attorney Steve Mashuda with Earthjustice
sides with the California opinion: Fish reared in hatcheries don't make
up for the numbers of wild fish lost due to man-made changes to the
rivers, and orcas are traveling farther to stay alive.
"Orcas shouldn't have to swim all the way to Monterey Bay every year
just to find a decent meal. The Columbia-Snake system is in the whales'
backyard, and it was once the largest salmon producer in the lower 48
states. We need to revisit the determination made under the Bush
The Obama administration is reviewing the Columbia-Snake report, which
was written while George W. Bush was President. That report says dams
do not jeopardize the orcas' food source. Mashuda says a decision is
expected by the end of June about whether the feds will accept that
report or redo it. Either way, both orcas and salmon remain on the
endangered species list.
While federal agencies, the fishing industry, Native-American tribes
and utility companies continue to debate the impact of the dams,
Mashuda says the orcas' chances for survival are not improving.
"Right now, we're hovering somewhere around 85 whales. We had seven
whales die in 2008. The National Marine Fisheries Service has said that
the population needs to be somewhere around 120 to be considered
viable. So they need all the help they can get."
Information about Orca Appreciation Month events and background is available at www.orcamonth.org