Quantcast

With Only 74 Southern Resident Orcas Left, New Protections Announced For Iconic Killer Whales

Animals
Southern resident killer whales suffered a significant population decline in the late 1990s and are now listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. NOAA

With only 74 remaining in the wild, time is running out to save southern resident killer whales, especially after two died this summer.

This week, the Canadian government announced a slew of measures to save the critically endangered species. The $61.5 million (US$50 million) initiative will address three key threats to the orcas: a lack of chinook salmon, the whales' favored prey; contaminants in the water; and vessel traffic and noise that interferes with their hunting abilities, according to a news release from the Fisheries and Oceans department.


The Canadian government is also looking to create new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for the killer whales, fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. The Swiftsure in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and La Perouse Bank off Tofino will be areas that the marine animals can call home, he said.

"We are in the process of consulting on those new critical habitat areas and expect to be able to move forward on them in the next couple of months," Wilkinson explained. "We are also talking about creation of killer whale sanctuaries, which essentially are within the areas of critical habitat ... which means that we can prohibit a range of different activities, not simply fisheries, where you can regulate that ships cannot go."

These efforts are part of a previously announced $167.4 million Whales Initiative to save the southern residents, whose population has dipped to only 74 individuals, down from 98 in 1995.

Their plight was underscored this summer when a mother whale Tahlequah, or J35, carried her dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles in her heartbreaking "tour of grief" this August, according to the Center for Whale Research.

The next month, the ailing J50, another member of Tahlequah's pod, was declared missing and presumed dead after a three-day search in the waters between Washington state and Canada.

Governments in Canada and the U.S. have made efforts to revive the iconic species. Earlier this year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order to aid their recovery and the Chinook salmon they eat.

But will these efforts be enough to save the imperiled orcas? The majority of 74 southern residents left in the wild are not reproducing, meaning the opportunity to have more births than deaths is dwindling, Seattle's King 5 reported in September. Only two males are fathering all of the calves and only a few females are reproducing.

"There's only about four females having babies in the last decade," Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb told the news station.

What's more, 75 percent of newborns in the recent two have not survived, and 100 percent of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring, the center notes.

"Without reproduction, there is no chance of survival," Balcomb said. "This is what extinction looks like in slow motion."

Correction: The headline of this article has been updated to provide greater clarity.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

With well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage. An economist from the University of Michigan Energy Institute says that is likely to change. Maskot / Getty Images

In 2018, there were about 5 million electric cars on the road globally. It sounds like a large number, but with well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage.

Read More
Nestlé is accelerating its efforts to bring functional, safe and environmentally friendly packaging solutions to the market and to address the global challenge of plastic packaging waste. Nestlé / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nestlé, the world's largest food company, said it will invest up to $2 billion to address the plastic waste crisis that it is largely responsible for.

Read More
Sponsored
Determining the effects of media on people's lives requires knowledge of what people are actually seeing and doing on those screens. Vertigo3d / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Byron Reeves, Nilam Ram and Thomas N. Robinson

There's a lot of talk about digital media. Increasing screen time has created worries about media's impacts on democracy, addiction, depression, relationships, learning, health, privacy and much more. The effects are frequently assumed to be huge, even apocalyptic.

Read More
Indigenous people of various ethnic groups protest calling for demarcation of lands during the closing of the 'Red January - Indigenous Blood', in Paulista Avenue, in São Paulo, Brazil, Jan. 31, 2019. Cris Faga / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia

Rarely has something so precious fallen into such unsafe hands. Since Jair Bolsonaro took the Brazilian presidency in 2019, the Amazon, which makes up 10 percent of our planet's biodiversity and absorbs an estimated 5 percent of global carbon emissions, has been hit with a record number of fires and unprecedented deforestation.

Read More
Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Washington on May 12, 2017. GLENN CHAPMAN / AFP via Getty Images

Microsoft announced ambitious new plans to become carbon negative by 2030 and then go one step further and remove by 2050 all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975, according to a company press release.

Read More