Farmers Petition to Remove Killer Whales from the Endangered Species List
December 4, 2012
Killer whale (or orca) sightings are one of Monterey Bay’s main attractions. But agricultural politics might impact a population of endangered killer whales that frequents Monterey Bay.
This summer, California farmers filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to remove southern resident orcas from the endangered species list. These farmers, based in the San Joaquin Valley, have suffered cuts in water availability due to the listing. Farm irrigation draws water from rivers that salmon need to spawn, and salmon are the primary food source for southern resident orcas.
The orcas of Monterey Bay come from three distinct populations. One of them, the southern resident population, is endangered and contains fewer than 100 individuals.
Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch (photo above provided by Black and the Monterey Bay Whale Watch) was one of the first to discover southern resident orcas in Monterey Bay. “I was out on the boat, and I realized that [the orcas] weren’t our regular population of whales,” she recalls. “I went home, looked them up in a catalog and identified them.”
Officials with the NMFS have agreed to re-evaluate the endangered listing based on recent research. Farmers argue the the southern resident whales are not distinct from other, non-listed orca populations, but previous scientific observation suggests that these whales are both physically and behaviorally unique. If new evidence supports the farmers, the listing may be discontinued.
Black hopes that the petition will not be successful. “[These whales] are not doing very well,” she says. “Some of them look like they’re starving. They definitely deserve to be protected.”
The NMFS has one year from the date the petition was filed to review the scientific literature and decide whether to delist the southern resident killer whales. A public comment and public hearings will follow any formal proposal to delist.