Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force delivered
last week its final list of ways to help the whales in Puget Sound recover and one
of those recommendations is to consider the benefits to chinook salmon of
removing lower Snake River dams.
report and recommendations, released Nov. 16, lists 36 recommendations that the
Task Force believes will be needed to add 10 more orcas in the next 10 years to
the depleted southern residents, whose numbers are now at a 30-year low.
are a number of causes for the orca decline, but broadly the decline has been
due to vessel traffic, contaminants and lack of prey. The prey favored by the orcas
is chinook salmon, which makes up 80 percent of the whales’ diet. The problem
is that the number of chinook available in the inland seas from southeast
Alaska to southern Puget Sound and along the west coast to the Columbia River
has also been in decline.
148-page report says that the southern resident diet is nearly entirely
composed of salmon, with an adult male orca needing about 325 pounds of chinook
salmon every day.
help rebuild chinook runs of salmon that would be available to orcas, the Task
Force recommends establishing a stakeholder process to consider the removal of
four dams on the lower Snake River– Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose
and Lower Granite dams.
Task Force recommendation is to increase spilling water at dams to benefit
downstream passage for juvenile salmon. That would require a change to
Washington water quality standards, the report says, to allow for higher levels
of total dissolved gas at the dams resulting from more spill.
science is clear and the public strongly supports increased spill at the
federal dams on the Columbia & Snake Rivers and removal of the lower Snake
River dams,” said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club. “These are essential actions
to rebuild salmon populations in the near and long-term. With its
recommendations, the Orca Task Force has called for urgent action in the
Columbia Basin. We call on Governor Inslee to prioritize these actions.”
U.S. District Court order, three federal Columbia and Snake river dam operating
agencies, along with NOAA Fisheries, are in the process of creating a new
biological opinion of the power system. Spill and dam removal are being
evaluated. The final environmental impact statement and BiOp are expected in
2020 or 2021.
population of Southern Resident orcas dropped to 82 in 2003 and to the current
number of 74 in 2005, prompting NOAA Fisheries to list the population as
endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Canada the whales were
listed under the Species at Risk Act in 2003. While the orca population made
some progress in the interim, recent losses and orcas’ difficulty in bringing a
pregnancy to a birth have left the population at 74. None of the Southern
Resident calves born between 2015 and 2018 has survived.
co-chairs of the task force, we are submitting an ambitious package of
science-based recommendations for your consideration,” said Task Force
co-chairs Les Purce and Stephanie Solien in the report’s cover letter to
Inslee. “If enacted, these recommendations will make significant progress
toward recovering our Southern Residents.”
extinction of these orcas would be an unacceptable loss,” the report says.
“These orcas are beloved and hold significant value as an iconic and treasured
species in Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly for
tribal communities. They also serve as an indicator of the health of our
waters. Action is required immediately to help the orcas and the entire
ecosystem we depend upon.”
task force had nearly 50 representatives from tribal, federal, local and other
state governments, state agencies, the Washington State Legislature, the
private sector, nonprofit organizations and the Government of Canada.
resulting process brought together diverse voices from a variety of
perspectives, yet all had the same goal – to protect and recover these iconic
and endangered creatures,” Inslee said. “These recommendations include the
weight of extensive public engagement and feedback. We heard from thousands of
people from all over the state, region and the world who are very passionate
about saving these animals.”
recommendations support four goals:
1: Increase chinook abundance.
2: Decrease disturbance of and risk to Southern Resident orcas from vessels and
noise, and increase their access to prey.
3: Reduce the exposure of Southern Resident orcas and their prey to
4: Ensure that funding, information and accountability mechanisms are in place
to support effective implementation.
the 36 recommendations are:
increase investments in restoration and acquisition of habitat that will
benefit chinook stocks;
increase investments in restoration and acquisition of near shore habitat to
increase the supply of forage fish;
strengthen protections for both chinook and forage fish through legislation;
increase hatchery production consistent with sustainable fisheries;
reestablish salmon runs in areas blocked by dams;
consider management actions to address pinniped predation in Puget Sound and
along the Washington coast, as well as in the Columbia River;
reduce predation on salmon by non-native predators, such as bass, channel
catfish and walleye, along with other predators;
reduce vessel noise;
establish a limited entry whale watching permit system, revise the orca buffer
from 200 yards to 400 yards, or all together end whale watching for three to
five years (according to a report in the Capitol Press, the Pacific Whale
Watching Association was the only group that rejected the report);
reduce threats from stormwater runoff and other toxins.
task force ends with a recommendation to provide sustainable funding for all
to Inslee, he will review the recommendations over the coming weeks, assess
each one for the most impact in the short and long-term, and then “roll out my
budget and policy priorities in mid-December for consideration during the 2019
Southern Resident Orca Task Force Report and Recommendations is at https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/OrcaTaskForce_reportandrecommendations_11.16.18.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=gov
Task Force webpage is at https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/energy-environment/southern-resident-killer-whale-recovery-and-task-force
Fisheries Recovery Plan is at (https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/killer_whales/esa_status/srkw-recov-plan.pdf).
It details and analyzes potential threats affecting Southern Residents and
outlines an adaptive management approach to recovery strategies addressing each
threat, based on the best available science, the Task Force report says.
CBB, September 28, 2018, “Orca Task Force Recommendations Include Focus On
Salmon Runs; Non-Native Game Fish To ‘Predatory,’” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441561.aspx
CBB, Sept. 14, 2018, “NOAA Fisheries Studying Nighttime Behavior Of Endangered
Killer Whales As Part Of Action Plan” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441483.aspx
May 11, 2018, “Puget Sound Boaters Asked To Observe ‘No-Go’ Zone To Protect
Foraging Orcas,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440697.aspx
March 16, 218, “Washington Governor Signs Executive Order To Protect Orcas,
Chinook Salmon” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440354.aspx
CBB, Jan. 15, 2016, “Study: Chinook Salmon Make Up 80 Percent Of Diet For
ESA-Listed Killer Whales In Pacific Northwest” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435857.aspx