How Washington is doing on orca recovery — and what comes next

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In advance of Orca Recovery Day earlier this October, WDFW joined eight state partners to round up some of the ways we’ve been working to save Southern Resident killer whales in an update to the Governor’s Office. The letter captures the state agencies’ progress to implement the recommendations from the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which Governor Jay Inslee formed in 2018 to find ways the state could protect Southern Resident killer whales.

From working to restore shorelines, to monitoring forage fish populations, spreading awareness about responsible boating, studying contaminant levels in fish, and producing more fish for Southern Resident killer whales to eat — WDFW has been hard at work on the Southern Resident killer whale recovery effort. We are also working to improve fish passage for salmon, developing rules for commercial viewing of Southern Resident killer whales, and partnering with fellow state agencies to support an update of the Governor’s Office’s 20-year plan for salmon recovery. (You can see more of what WDFW has been up to in this Orca Recovery Day blog post).

Moving forward

As we continue to envision a future that’s better for Southern Resident killer whales — and people — there are a few things the state agencies emphasized in the letter:

  • We need to push forward with implementing the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force’s 2019 recommendations.
  • We need to continue to partner with Canada and major ports to continue to keep tabs on and reduce shipping impacts. Bonus: Puget Sound’s major ports (Seattle, Tacoma, and Northwest Seaport Alliance) and numerous collaborators will soon launch a Joint Innovation Project to reduce shipping impacts as part of the Governor’s Maritime Blue initiative.
  • We need to continue to work with the United States Navy to reduce noise and disturbance impacts from training activities around orcas.
  • We need to support Chinook salmon recovery by preserving and restoring habitat. A lot of how the state does this is through grant funding from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation office by way of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, and the Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative.
  • We need to protect riparian ecosystems through work led by the Governor’s Office with support from tribal governments and state partners.
  • We need continued support to protect natural resources and the environment. For example, to better protect shorelines, we need to create a compliance program based on the new hydraulic project approval civil authorities granted by the Legislature.
  • We need to prioritize better data that tracks the state’s progress on creating more food for orcas, reducing noise, and cleaning up Puget Sound.

In addition to WDFW, letter co-signers included the Washington departments of Ecology, Transportation, Commerce, and Natural Resources as well as the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, Puget Sound Partnership, and Washington State Conservation Commission. We applaud their and Governor Inslee’s leadership for continuing to work alongside us to make a difference for Southern Resident killer whales.

The State, however, can not do this work alone. Washington needs the help of federal agencies, conservation entities, and people like you. Please share the below tips with the people you know using all the means available to you.

We know there’s still more work to do, and the two new Southern Resident calves born in September are signs of hope that remind us how important it is to keep pushing forward with the recovery effort.

Six ways to help:

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1. Be Whale Wise: Noise makes it harder for whales to hunt successfully. Stay out of the path of orcas of at least 400 yards in front of or behind them and 300 yards on either side. Learn more at bewhalewise.org.

2. Plant a tree! Consider volunteering to restore salmon habitat. Contact your local regional fisheries enhancement group or conservation district to learn more about opportunities, such as tree plantings or restoration events to improve the health of streams and rivers in your community.

3. Support clean, healthy water. Whether it’s fixing a car leak, or planting a raingarden, there are a lot of small ways you can support clean, healthy water. Visit Puget Sound Starts Here to learn more. More information about the value of raingardens is available from Orcas Love Raingardens.

4. Opt for cleaner cleaning products. Consider products that are safer for the environment. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice label to limit the use of chemicals that enter our waterways.

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5. Consider a personalized license plate. For more than 40 years, the sale of personalized license plates has been the primary source of funding for the management of endangered wildlife, including peregrine falcons, pygmy rabbits, and orca. You can buy a personalized orca plate through the Washington Department of Licensing — initial fees and renewal fee varies by location and type of vehicle. A portion of sales — $2 from each plate purchased — supports the care and rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife.

6. Restore habitat. WDFW biologists and programs help private landowners pursue restoration projects along waterways and shorelines that provide important habitat for fish and healthy aquatic ecosystems. If you own Puget Sound shoreline, you particularly should learn about the WDFW’s Shore Friendly funding assistance program.

Visit WDFW’s website for more information about orca conservation, management, and other partners in the recovery effort.

Written by

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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