Last week the Speaker of the Washington House of Representatives, Frank Chopp, appointed Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, to the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.
Southern resident orca whales are the only known resident population of orcas in the United States. While orca whales have been protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) since 1972, their population has continued declining, which placed them on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list in 2005.
“But the numbers kept falling at an alarming rate despite these protections, leaving us with about 75 whales today, the lowest population in three decades,” said Rep. Blake, chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and sponsor of a bill in the 2018 session calling for funding and a task force to address orca recovery efforts. “I am looking forward to working on this panel and developing feasible ways to bring those numbers back up because losing our killer whales just isn’t an option.”
The main reason for such a sharp drop in the whale population is that the primary food in their diet, Chinook salmon, are also scarce and endangered. Other factors are toxic contaminants and disturbance from vessel noise and traffic.
While his legislation did not pass, funding was secured through a proviso negotiated in the budget by Blake, and the recovery task force was created through an executive order signed by Governor Inslee in March. The budget proviso included $115,000 for the development of a long-term orca recovery plan, $548,000 for more enforcement of rules for vessels that travel near orcas and $837,000 for hatchery operations that boost the stock of Chinook salmon and other key prey species.
The Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force will coordinate with British Columbia, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Alaska in developing policy recommendations at the regional, state, and federal levels. It will prepare a comprehensive report and recommendations for recovering orcas with a full draft due by October 1, 2018, and a final report by November 1, 2018.
“We need to increase salmon production to ensure our Orcas can survive and breed, and in doing so, we will also help boost the economy in fishing communities,” said Blake. “Conservation strategies that protect our natural resources are essential if we want future generations to thrive in our region.”
The task force will hold its first meeting on May 1. The agenda is available here.