Monday, December 3, 2012

California farmers want orcas taken off endangered-species list

All I can say is: Good Luck with that!
NOAA Fisheries' listing of orcas as endangered came a year after it listed the animals as threatened in 2004. It had decided in 2002 not to list them at all. The agency initially determined the southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound, in J, K and L pods, were not a distinct population segment.

That finding was set aside by a U.S. District Court judge in 2003, who ruled there was enough uncertainty in the science to give the matter more study. The agency convened a science task force that eventually found the southern resident killer-whale population to be a distinct population, resulting in the 2005 listing.

Since then, the agency has designated 2,560 square miles of Puget Sound critical habitat for killer whales; required whale-watch vessels to keep a longer distance from the animals; and produced a recovery plan. But the southern resident population remains quite small, with only about 86 animals.

Fred Felleman, of Seattle, who in 2001 advocated for the original petition for listing, said the petition now to delist the orcas is a distraction from the necessary work of rebuilding orca populations.

"Oh great, here is a chance to biopsy them and tag them and chase them all over town until we don't have to worry about them any more," Felleman said.

To him, the distinct behavior of the southern residents sets them clearly apart from other orcas. They eat only fish, while other orcas eat seals and other mammals. They have distinct family groups, dialects, greeting ceremonies and migratory patterns.

"If there was ever a poster child for this type of subspecies, it's the killer whales," he said. "It's not just their genetics, it's culture. These clearly are the tribes of the sea, and if you extirpate that population not only do you lose the genetic code, you lose a unique brain trust."

In its petition, Pacific Legal Foundation stated there are about 50,000 killer whales roaming all the oceans of the world. Puget Sound's J, K and L pods comprise less than 0.2 percent of the species and, being such a small part of a larger population from which they are not distinct, protection is not warranted, the firm argued.

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