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The Fish Division

Southern Resident Killer Whales being considered for State Endangered Species Listing

Final Commission decision expected February 2024

Killer whales
Photo by Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries.
Click image to enlarge

September 22, 2023

On April 21, 2023, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission accepted a petition to list the Southern Resident population of orcas (killer whales) as endangered under the Oregon Endangered Species Act (OESA). The Commission found that the Feb. 16, 2023 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation presented "substantial scientific information" to begin a rulemaking process.

Acceptance of the petition initiated the rule-making process but was not a final decision to list. The Commission is expected to make that decision at its Feb. 15-16, 2024 meeting in Portland.

OESA outlines a process the Commission follows to decide if a species should be listed. It requires ODFW to present a Biological Assessment of the species to the Commission that compiles and summarizes the best available scientific information to aid the Commission in their listing determination.

As of late September 2023, ODFW has prepared a draft Biological Assessment for the Southern Residents that summarizes information on their natural history, population status and trends, factors affecting their survival, and management actions being taken to recover the population. The draft is being reviewed by a variety of agencies, tribes, organizations, and stakeholders with an interest in the Commission's listing determination for the Southern Residents.

The Biological Assessment will be available online for public review and comment after this review is complete and before the February 2024 meeting. Also before the meeting, ODFW staff will make a recommendation to the Commission (to list the species as endangered or not). ODFW will announce when the Biological Assessment and Commission meeting materials are available for public comment.

Southern Resident Killer Whales were listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2005. They spend significant time in Puget Sound during the summer and fall and also use coastal waters off Oregon and California. Currently, they number just 73 individuals in three pods. In 2021, NOAA Fisheries designated coastal waters from Washington to central California as critical habitat. Some key factors behind their decline are scarcity of prey (primarily Chinook), high levels of contaminants from pollution and disturbance from vessels/sound. See the April 2023 meeting presentation about the petition here and find more information about killer whales and the federal listing at NOAA's website.

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