by Elizabeth Ruther, Defenders of Wildlife
Endangered southern resident orcas could soon be starved to extinction.
Known as the “fish-eating orca,” these whales have relied almost exclusively on Chinook salmon for thousands of years to survive. But increased human activity has disrupted this balance and decimated the Chinook salmon population – and if we don’t act soon, southern resident orcas will be in real danger of running out of food.
Hydroelectric dams, over fishing and habitat destruction have all contributed to the endangered status of Chinook salmon. The Columbia-Snake River basin once produced more salmon than any other river system in the world. But today, less than 5% of the historic number of fish returns to the watershed to spawn. Without a healthy population of Chinook salmon, it is doubtful that the southern resident orca population will ever recover.
These whales are struggling against pollution, marine noise, vessel traffic and a shortage of food. With their population in jeopardy, southern resident orcas were finally added to the Endangered Species List in 2005 – since then, they’ve lost close to 10% of their population with fewer than 80 of these whales left in the wild.
That’s why it’s so important that we defend the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for animals like the southern resident orca and the Chinook salmon. Because of human activity, these two species are now forced to rely on ESA protections to survive.
Scientists agree that restoring abundant populations of wild Columbia and Snake River Chinook salmon must be our top priority to help save and recover the southern resident orca.
Orcas are culturally and economically important to Washington State. Southern resident orcas attract between $60-$75 million dollars per year in tourism, and healthy population levels have been linked to maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. Yet despite their significance, not enough is being done to ensure the survival of the remaining population.
It’s up to Washingtonians like you, who care so much for our wildlife, to stand up for these amazing creatures.
Thank you for all you do.