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First Report From Gov. Inslee’s Orca Task Force Is Out For Public Comment

NOAA Fisheries under NMFS research permit #19091.
Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018 (right); the recent image shows him in poorer condition with a noticeably thinner body profile.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery task force has issued a draft report with possible recommendations. It's 53 pages long and contains about 50 detailed potential actions.

The public is invited to comment as the task force works to narrow their list before submitting it to the state Legislature.

Inslee’s task force includes nearly 50 members of diverse interests– everything from environmental advocates, tribes and scientists to representatives of agriculture, utilities, government and whale watching companies. They’re divided into three working groups, looking at solutions to address the three main issues impacting orcas: lack of prey, toxic contamination, and disturbance from noise and vessel traffic.

Task Force co-chair Les Purce says the draft report is the outcome of their extensive work at meetings over the past 6 months.

“The question really is, how effectively can we translate that to the legislature and the public, in regard to the differences that that will make," he said. 

They will be narrowing their list down over the next two months with an eye toward actions that can have the most immediate effects. These include things like increasing hatchery production of Chinook salmon, the orca’s preferred food.  

"To really make a difference in the short term, recognizing we have another year to work on formulating some of the longer term issues as well," Purce said.

Public comment on this first draft report is open until midnight Oct. 7. The task force will consider them at its next meeting later that month before finalizing the report Nov.16.

NOAA Update: Drone Images Show Another Sick Orca - And Several Pregnant

Meanwhile, new reports have emerged that another of the endangered animals that frequent Puget Sound is sick and several others are pregnant.  

A 27-year-old male known as K-25 currently is starting to look emaciated, according to federal scientists who track the whales with drone photography. And the same images show his sister to be heavily pregnant, along with a number of other females in the J, K and L pods.

NOAA Fisheries is asking whale watch boats to keep extra distance from them.

Jeff Friedman, U.S. president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, says it's not a problem for them to give a wider berth to whales they know are vulnerable.

"We did the same thing with J-35 and J-50. When the situation calls for it, we'll give them some extra space and we've got lots of other options out there," he said.

J-35 is the whale who lost her calf just a half-hour after its birth and captured international headlines as she grieved, pushing its corpse for 17 days. J-50 is the young orca that disappeared last month and is presumed dead after showing signs of extreme emaciation.

The endangered southern resident Orcas are down to just 74 after three deaths this summer. And they haven't had a successful pregnancy in three years.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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