New federal rule expands protected habitat for endangered orcas along West Coast

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Orcas are seen in Monterey Bay in this undated file photo. (Getty Images)

Orcas are seen in Monterey Bay in this undated file photo. (Getty Images)

A federal rule that went into effect July 30 expands protected habitat for the endangered southern resident orcas down the West Coast.

The Center for Biological Diversity pushed for the protections, which designate 15,910 square miles of habitat for wildlife. The protections will expand those in the Salish Sea and along the coasts of Washington and Oregon, down to California’s Point Sur, the Kitsap Sun reported.

More foraging areas, river mouths and migratory routes are protected now. The orcas, which number 75 among three pods, have historically spent their summers in the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, which were protected as critical habitat in 2006.

“This is an opportunity for not only Oregon but California to recognize these whales are not Washington’s whales,” said Deborah Giles, a research scientist at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology. “The Southern Residents are not local, they really are a widely ranging animal all the way down to Monterrey,”

The rule follows a 2019 court-ordered agreement achieved after the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act, according to a press release.

“We shouldn’t be allowing noise and disturbance from vessels in that area, which also means we have to keep that area free of contaminants and bio-accumulated toxins,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the center. “We don’t want to just see them limp along for years to come, we need to see them get on the rebound.”

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