NOAA has agreed to conduct a status review to determine if Puget Sound’s killer whales should remain on the Endangered Species List. The agency received a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which claims that the three Southern Resident pods should be considered just a part of a larger population of orcas. According to the PLF, the Southern Residents do not meet the legal definition of “species” that qualifies them for listing: “The term ‘species’ includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”
The 62-page PLF petition (PDF 384 kb) — filed on behalf of three parties, including California farmers — argues from a carefully constructed legal analysis that says NOAA should never have listed the Southern Residents in the first place.
“NOAA said the petition presents new information from scientific journal articles about killer whale genetics, addressing issues such as how closely related this small population is to other populations, and meets the agency’s standard for accepting a petition to review.”
“In order to label the Orca as endangered, regulators had to invent a new sub-category of Orca in the Pacific Northwest,” Schiff continued. “There is no scientifically significant difference between the Orcas in that region and anywhere else. There is no taxonomically significant distinction in genetics, biology, or behavior. Our petition points out these facts. It’s encouraging ― it’s a step forward for sound science and rational regulations ― that federal officials are saying that our petition makes a strong case and the listing must be reconsidered.
“The Orca listing isn’t just bad science, it’s also bad for the economy,” Schiff said. “Among those hurt by unjustified federal Orca regulations are farmers and communities as far away as California’s San Joaquin Valley, and even the population of Southern California. One of the reasons for federal limits on the pumping of water to these regions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been to regulate for fish that are part of the Orca’s food supply.