Endangered orcas get new habitat protection from U.S. government

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In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, a female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island, Wash., as seen from a federally permitted research vessel. The National Marine Fisheries Service has finalized rules to expand the Southern Resident orca's critical habitat from the Canadian border down to Point Sur, Calif., adding 15,910 square miles, (41,207 square kilometers) of foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, a female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island, Wash., as seen from a federally permitted research vessel. The National Marine Fisheries Service has finalized rules to expand the Southern Resident orca’s critical habitat from the Canadian border down to Point Sur, Calif., adding 15,910 square miles, (41,207 square kilometers) of foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Endangered killer whales received new habitat protections from the U.S. government Friday.

The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized rules to expand the Southern Resident orca’s critical habitat from the Canadian border down to Point Sur, California, adding 15,910 square miles (41,207 square kilometers) of foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways.

Seattlepi.com reports that the total protected area now encompasses more than 18,000 square miles (46,620 square kilometers).

“These critically endangered orcas are finally getting the federal habitat protections they desperately need,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Environmentalists praised the action. But they also called for habitat protections for salmon to aid in the orca’s recovery.

“While this action helps ensure the orcas’ ocean home will be protected, more action is urgently needed to restore wild salmon populations the orcas depend on,” Ben Enticknap, a senior scientist with Oceana, said in a statement.

There are currently 75 southern resident orca whales in the three resident J, K and L pods. The whales have in recent years been at their lowest numbers since the 1970s,

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