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Orcas of the Salish Sea on track to extinction

WWF-Canada called upon its federal government to release its recovery plan for the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs).

The action plan for their recovery under the Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) is long overdue, and unless strong protection measures are quickly implemented, it is unlikely this group will survive in the long-term.

Also known as the orcas of the Salish Sea, seven have died since January 2016, bringing the population down to 78.

David Miller, WWF-Canada president and CEO, said “Southern Resident Killer Whales, along with the Northern Resident population, have been without a recovery plan for the 16 years since they were first found to be endangered. With seven deaths in a single year, these orcas are at a crossroads: Will measures be put in place to meaningfully reduce the threats they face, or will we let this iconic group of orcas disappear from our oceans forever?”

Threats to Southern Resident Killer Whales

  • Food scarcity. The whales rely almost completely on Chinook salmon, which is in decline.
  • Underwater noise, mostly from shipping. Acoustic disturbances mean orcas find it harder to communicate, forage for food and navigate.
  • Industrial development in the orca’s critical habitat.
  • Contaminants from watershed pollution, which accumulates in orcas and can damage their health.

Status of Southern Resident Killer Whales

  • These whales have been declared endangered in both Canada and the United States, as their critical habitat straddles the border. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated Southern Residents to be endangered in 2001.
  • Fifteen years later, in the summer of 2016, the federal government released a proposed plan for their recovery. Although the consultation period ended in mid-August, the final recovery plan has not yet been released.
  • Because of its small population size and the species’ low reproductive rate, even under the most favourable conditions, recovery will take more than 25 years for this population to recover, scientists warn.

The recent deaths

  • The seven deaths in the past year  –  an unusually high number – include five adults and two infants
  • One of the orcas was “Granny,” thought to be 105 years old, and known to researchers as the leader of the family group they call J-pod.
  • A healthy adult male orca in his prime, called J34, is believed to have been killed by a ship strike in December.
  • Two infant orcas, one a few days old and the other just under one year, died of unknown causes. Source: WWF Canada
A southern resident Killer whale (Orcinus orca) leaping out of the waters of Haro Strait, British Columbia, Canada
A southern resident Killer whale (Orcinus orca) leaping out of the waters of Haro Strait, British Columbia, Canada
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