September 28, 2009

Northwest orcas more dependent on salmon than we thought, say scientists

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New findings, which mirror what environmentalists have been saying for years, have concluded that the Northwest’s prized resident orcas rely more heavily on chinook salmon than previously thought, reports Joe Rojas-Burke of The Oregonian.

Researchers have found direct parallels between plummeting chinook salmon counts and declining killer whale numbers as far back as the 1990s, despite relatively abundant populations of other whale cuisine. And perhaps not coincidentally, the whales prospects improved significantly in years when chinook salmon returns were faring better.

Scientists believe the new evidence may make a case for limiting salmon fishing to safeguard the future of the San Juan’s killer whales, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. This is sure to make interesting reading for U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who is currently mulling over the Obama administration’s recently released Columbia and Snake River salmon plan — which some say downplays the risk of declining chinook populations on resident orcas.

— Natasha Walker

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