Nearly $670,000 in grants will help endangered orcas

SEATTLE — Nearly $670,000 in conservation grants will go toward the recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales, also known as orca whales.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and its partners made the announcement at an event Wednesday.

NFWF said the grants will generate $610,600 in matching contributions for a total of more than $1.2 million.

Though the 74 orcas eat salmon and other fish, they prefer Chinook salmon, which recent research showed are having low survival rates in early stages of life.  Because fewer fish are making it to the ocean, there are fewer fish of the size that killer whales need to feed, NFWF said.

NFWF said six grants announced Wednesday will support projects throughout the food chain and help habitat that's important to both young Chinook and their prey.

In addition to the grants, a public campaign supported by the Killer Whale Recovery and Conservation Program and its partners  – “Be Whale Wise” – will help educate local boaters about how they can better protect orcas.

“Thousands of boaters share waters with killer whales in the Puget Sound area – many with the hope of catching a glimpse of this cultural icon; so engaging these boaters about how they can help this population survive is vital,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF.

Experts say noise and disturbances from boats are known to decrease killer whales’ feeding and also “mask” the echolocation they use to hunt.

Southern Resident killer whales were listed as endangered in 2005, and NOAA Fisheries says the  population is one of eight national "Species in the Spotlight," at greatest risk of extinction.

"The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program works to understand why the population has failed to recover and takes steps identified in the recovery plan  and recommendations from the November 2018 Orca Task Force to bring this population back from the brink," a WFWF news release said.

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