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Conservation group files lawsuit to protect orca whales

J50 near Lime Kiln Point, San Juan Island, and with other females in her family on Aug. 11, 2018. (Photos by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries)

A federal lawsuit was filed Thursday in Seattle that aims to add protected waters for southern resident orcas in Puget Sound and along the coast.  The group behind the lawsuit, Biological Diversity, says the timing is critical.

“The killer whales right now are the animal I’m most worried about going extinct right now off the US West Coast,” Biological Diversity Attorney Catherine Kilduff told KIRO 7.

This map is part of the lawsuit and shows the proposed critical habitat.  Most of Puget Sound already has the critical habitat protection.  This lawsuit aims to extend it out to the Pacific Ocean all the way down the coast line to San Francisco.  The map shows green dots indicating where southern resident orcas have been spotted.

“The government said in 2015 that they planned to identify this habitat in 2017,” Kilduff said.  “2017 has come and gone.  The southern resident killer whales are dying, the population is declining. There are only 75 right now. And it’s getting more and more heartbreaking.”

Read the full lawsuit here.

Biological Diversity started their efforts with a petition to the Obama administration in 2014.

They hope recent publicity over J-50, the sick 3-and-a-half-year-old orca, is helping to raise public awareness and get the attention of National Marine Fisheries.

They hope to have a final ruling on the lawsuit by next June.

“We know the Trump administration is hostile toward the Endangered Species Act,” Kilduff said.  “But there is no choice of waiting if these animals are going to continue to exist.”

Jim Milbury, Public Affairs Officer for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, sent KIRO 7 this statement in response to the lawsuit on Thursday:

“We continue our work to designate revised critical habitat for Southern Resident killer whales.   This effort involves the analysis of recent information about the ecology and behavior of Southern Resident killer whales.”

By John Knicely, KIRO 7

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