The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA fisheries) will put together a biological review team of killer whale experts to try to determine if the local orcas are a distinct population segment as defined by Endangered Species Act. The group will try to find out why the whale's population is declining and will make a recommendation about whether the agency should formally propose an ESA listing. The report will be completed in May 2002. This is the first in a series of steps which could lead to ESA listing by 2003.
The NOAA fisheries was asked to consider an ESA listing by the Center for Biological Diversity in May, 2001. Local groups -- The Whale Museum, Orca Conservancy and the Friends of the San Juans were co-petitioners.
"We take very seriously the recent declines in killer whale populations and are determined to find out what's causing it," said Donna Darm, the acting head of NOAA fisheries Northwest regional office in Seattle. "Accepting this petition to conduct the review is an important first step in determining an appropriate course of action."
The three pods which make up the resident whale population in Puget Sound have dropped from a population high of 99 in 1995 to 78 this year.
Mark Anderson, executive director of Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance noting the loss of breeding whales said, "It's great news, but we shouldn't take comfort in it. It can take up to five years (to go through the ESA listing process). I don't think we have five years."