August 3, 2012 in Nation/World

Orca protection challenged

Michael Doyle McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON – The iconic orca, or killer whale, should swim free of federal protection, a farmer from California’s San Joaquin Valley urged in a petition filed Thursday.

Backed by a conservative legal advocacy group based in Sacramento, Calif., Fresno County farmer Joe Del Bosque and his allies argue that the population of killer whales often found in Pacific Northwest waters doesn’t deserve defending under the Endangered Species Act. Protecting the whales also costs farmers precious water, growers say.

“It seems almost outrageous that a whale out in the ocean is restricting our water,” Del Bosque said. “Restrictions in the water flows are definitely affecting us.”

The petition, prepared by the Pacific Legal Foundation, asks the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service to change the status of the so-called “southern resident” population of killer whales from “endangered.” The population was listed as endangered in 2005, after a pronounced decline in its numbers.

Scientists counted only 86 of the protected southern resident variety in 2010. Federal officials concluded in a review last year that it was too soon to remove it from the endangered species list.

The killer whales in question, which are sometimes called the world’s largest dolphins, primarily populate Puget Sound and other inland waterways of Washington state and British Columbia during the spring, summer and fall. Highly social and living for as long as 90 years, they travel in matriarch-led pods as far as the Central California coast at other times of the year.

The petition further contends that the southern resident population isn’t scientifically distinct from other killer whale populations that aren’t afforded Endangered Species Act protections.

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