There Are Only 74 Southern Resident Whales Left – They Are Now Declared An Endangered Species

Oregon has listed the Southern Resident Whales as an endangered species. Today there are only an estimated 74 surving Southern Resident Whales. They feed almost entirely on salmon, whose populations are also threatened by oil spills, noise pollution, and other environmental contaminants.


Orcas Travel Between Alaska and California

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission was unanimous in its decision to protect the orcas under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. The orcas were listed as an endangered species by the federal government in 2005.

Related: Bill To Prohibit Captivity And Captive Breeding Of Orcas And Other Whales Introduced

The Southern Resident killer whale population travels between southeastern Alaska and central California. Last December, three calves disappeared, depleting the population to an estimated 74 surviving Southern Resident Whales.

Salmon, mainly Columbia River Chinook, constitute almost 50% of the diet of this species of whales. Loss of habitat and overfishing have decimated the state’s salmon supplies, creating a food shortage.

Related: Oregon State University Researchers Find The Answer To Rise In Gray Whale Deaths


More Funding Needed

Oregon wildlife staff say that while more hatchery salmon can be released into the ocean to help feed the whales, the department needs substantially more funds and capacity to increase hatchery production.

John North, deputy administrator, says the wildlife department is limited by a lack of funding and infrastructure to enable increased hatchery production. North told Wildlife Commissioners that the best his department could do with its present resources was a “few tweaks.”

North explained that since the 1980s, hatchery releases in the Puget Sound and the Columbia River have dramatically decreased by tens of millions. His department will now have to reassess if it can increase hatchery releases.

Several conservationists who attended the Commission hearing do not believe that hatchery salmon is enough to sustain the dietary needs of the whales, as they are small. They have asked the Commission to concentrate on improved protection of the dwindling numbers of Chinook salmon.

While other whale species feed on sharks and marine mammals, the Southern Resident Whale relies on a diet of fish, particularly Pacific salmon.

Oregon’s new endangered species declaration includes guidelines to ensure that human activities do not interfere with the survival of the Southern Resident Whale. One of the guidelines requires state officials to assess noise pollution before approving new projects within the habitat of the Southern Resident Whales.

Today about 2,500 whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. There are three ecotypes – resident, transient and offshore.


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