“The Oregon ESA listing is a meaningful step toward stronger Southern Resident orca recovery in the Pacific Northwest. Now the real work begins. State agencies will be taking on an important responsibility and it's the public's job to both support and hold them accountable.” 

Kathleen Callaghy, Defenders of Wildlife Northwest representative

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted today to protect Southern Resident orcas under the state’s Endangered Species Act, responding to a February 2023 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

“The Oregon ESA listing is a meaningful step toward stronger Southern Resident orca recovery in the Pacific Northwest,” said Kathleen Callaghy, Defenders of Wildlife Northwest representative. “Now the real work begins. State agencies will be taking on an important responsibility and it's the public's job to both support and hold them accountable.”

“I’m feeling more confident about the Southern Resident orcas’ recovery now that Oregon is joining this critical all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Brady Bradshaw, oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These struggling whales need the entire Pacific Northwest to work together to bring back a healthy wild Chinook salmon population and strengthen the marine ecosystem. With Oregon at the table, the real work can begin.”

Today’s listing decision requires Oregon to develop an endangered species management plan, which will require state agencies to develop concrete actions that address the primary threats to orcas in Oregon. The petitioners also recommended improvements to the survival guidelines. One of those, aiming to strengthen protections against pollution, was added today by the commission.

Southern Resident orcas are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act as well as Washington state’s Endangered Species Act, but the population has continued to decline.

Unlike other orcas, Southern Resident orcas feed almost exclusively on Chinook salmon, which are also experiencing population declines because of dams, habitat destruction, toxic pollution and other issues.

“Southern Resident orcas’ survival as a species depends on Oregon’s inland waterways and resources. At the same time, the residents of Oregon depend on the ecological role whales play in keeping the ocean healthy,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “Ensuring this iconic species is protected in Oregon is truly a win-win.”

Orcas are recognized by their striking black and white coloration and their history in popular culture. Scientists have observed that Southern Resident orcas have their own dialects and culture, with distinctions between pods.

Although these orcas are known to live in the Puget Sound and coastal waters of Washington state, the Southern Residents also spend considerable time feeding in the inland and coastal waters of Oregon and California. The mouth of the Columbia River on Oregon’s northern border is a crucial foraging area for the whales. More than half the Chinook salmon the orcas consume while in coastal waters comes from the Columbia Basin.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of 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.

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