Group sues Trump administration, claiming endangered orcas harmed by mismanaged salmon fisheries

The fight to save our orcas is heating up on both the state and federal level.

The Orca Recovery Task Force urged Washington lawmakers Wednesday to move forward on bills that address the four main threats facing our southern residents.

Also Wednesday, a local conservation group sued the Trump administration for allegedly “mismanaging West Coast salmon fisheries” and harming our orca population.

Environmentalists say drastic action is needed to save the endangered species.

A lack of food, toxic water pollution, vessel noise and a risk of oil spills- those are some of the problems threatening our 75 remaining orcas.

Earlier this week, 35 of our critically endangered southern resident orcas in the L pod were spotted in Monterey Bay, California – the first time they were seen there since 2011.

“I think it does highlight how far these orcas are going to find their prey,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Seattle.

Scroll down to continue reading

More news from KIRO 7


​Experts say it shows a lack of Chinook salmon -the orcas' primary food source– in their native Puget Sound.

Last May for the first time, the orcas didn't come home.

“They were called ‘residents’ for a reason. It’s because we could count on seeing them regularly between May and October. That is absolutely not the case anymore- 2018 was the first year in May, when the whales never showed up. That’s unprecedented. And the reason was there wasn’t any food for them to come and find,” said Deborah Giles, the science and research director for Wild Orca.

Plus, the plight of orca mother J-35 last summer had the world mourning with her. For 17 days, she carried her dead calf with her as she swam more than 1,000 miles.

Young female orca J-50 also died.

“Watching them suffer in the way we saw last summer was incredibly challenging,” Giles said. “They are the canary in the coal mine, they are the ones indicating the health of this ecosystem,” she said.

It has the Center for Biological Diversity suing.

“The Trump administration is trying to attack the Endangered Species Act at all levels,” Ressler said.

The lawsuit pushes federal organizations to better manage West Coast salmon fisheries.

“How much fish the fisheries are allowed to catch. We think it’s time governments used updated science to relook at those plans,” Ressler said.

Washington's Orca Recovery Task Force and supporters spoke at the Seattle Aquarium Wednesday, with speakers saying their focus right now is getting state lawmakers to pass four bills.

They would:

- SB 5577 Require vessels to keep their distance from orcas

- HB 1579: Give more protection to Chinook salmon

- SB 5135: Prevent toxic pollution

- HB1578: Prevent oil spills

“We need the legislature to pass all of them. A piecemeal approach will not be enough to help the orcas,” said Mindy Roberts, a member of the task force.

“There is no single action that can save these orcas on its own,” said Shoreline Mayor Chris Roberts.

The bills do face opposition -- ome are concerned the bills would limit business interests.

But there is some good news -the calf named “Lucky” spotted in California a couple of days ago is the first southern resident calf to survive past birth since 2015.