Orcas still an endangered species

SEATTLE -- The NOAA's Fisheries Service announced Friday that it rejected a call from a consortium of farmers in California's Central Valley to remove Puget Sound's killer whales from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The group rejected a proposal by two farm groups to de-list the killer whales, known officially as Southern Residents. The groups claimed the whales should have never been listed because they are a part of the much larger killer whale population throughout the Pacific Ocean.

Michael Harris, the Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, called NOAA's decision to keep the orcas listed under the Endangered Species Act the right decision.

"Our operators empathize with these California farmers, who like us have been asked to make sacrifices to the way they do business to support orca recovery," Harris said. "But whale watch operators are arguably the stakeholers most impacted by these federal regulations, and yet for over a decade now have been conspicuously supportive of the listing of the orcas and taking the strongest possible actions to protect and restore the population."

The population of the southern group has always been small, with a permanent population currently standing at 82. Scientists attribute depleted prey resources, particularly Chinook salmon, as the primary problem facing the orcas, the PWWA said.