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Indybay Feature
Tue Aug 17 2021
Endangered Orcas’ West Coast Habitat Receives New Federal Protection
15,910 Square Miles of Critical Habitat Added to Existing Salish Sea Protections
Responding to legal pressure from the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government finalized a new rule on July 30 expanding critical habitat protection along the West Coast for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The population of Southern Residents stands at just 74 orcas. The National Marine Fisheries Service designated 15,910 square miles of new critical habitat, expanding current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur.

The final rule, which is more protective than the one proposed in September 2019, follows an April 2019 court-ordered agreement achieved after the Center sued the Trump administration in 2018 for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act. The expanded critical habitat covers important foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways along the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border to Big Sur, California. Added to the current habitat protections in Washington’s inland waters, the total designation encompasses more than 18,000 square miles of marine habitat.

While these orcas spend much of the summer in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea (areas protected as critical habitat in 2006), they travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to rest and feed on migrating salmon.

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See Also: photopdf Federal Rule Protects Endangered Orcas’ West Coast Habitat

Related Feature: Lawsuit Forces Protection for Endangered Orcas' West Coast Habitat
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