The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has finalized a rule that expands southern resident orca critical habitat by approximately 16,000 square miles.

“Now that the federal government has recognized the entire range of this species, it’s important to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River and restore spawning runs of more than a million chinook salmon,” said Kathleen Gobush, Northwest director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Chinook salmon are the southern resident’s orca’s main food. There are few other actions the federal government can take that would as profoundly impact the survival of southern resident orcas than restoring the Snake River.” 

SEATTLE, Wash.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has finalized a rule that expands southern resident orca critical habitat by approximately 16,000 square miles or 640%. The new habitat spans the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, from the international border with Canada down to Point Sur.  

“Now that the federal government has recognized the entire range of this species, it’s important to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River and restore spawning runs of more than a million chinook salmon,” said Kathleen Gobush, Northwest director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Chinook salmon are the southern resident’s orca’s main food. There are few other actions the federal government can take that would as profoundly impact the survival of southern resident orcas than restoring the Snake River.”   

The new designation brings the total critical habitat for southern resident orcas to nearly 18,500 square miles. Previously, critical habitat was only designated in the inland waters of Washington state, which encompassed only 16 % of their total range.  

Southern resident orcas are a unique population of orca found along the west coast that have been granted federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. They rely primarily on Chinook salmon to sustain themselves, which have also been in rapid decline. 

The total population of Southern resident orca is estimated to be around 75 individuals. Any one loss is a major blow and only hastens their decline toward extinction.  

“There’s a lot more to be done to protect orcas and they have a very long uphill battle towards recovery. Not only is their food running out, but they face increased noise pollution, vessel disturbance and increased toxins. At the current rate of decline, we only have so much time left to save them. However, this is without a doubt incredible news and a huge win for such a culturally significant species and those who care about them in the Pacific Northwest,” said Gobush.   

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

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Hawk Hammer headshot
Hawk Hammer
Communications Specialist
hhammer@defenders.org
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Kathleen Gobush
Kathleen S. Gobush, PhD
Northwest Program Director

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