11/18/2018: "Orca Task Force Report Published"
(Task Force Report photo)
The Governor’s Task Force charged with developing long-term action recommendations for orca recovery and future sustainability has released it’s report and recommendations (pdf (2319\k file).
The report recommends four goals:
Increase Chinook abundance.
Decrease disturbance of and risk to orcas from vessels and noise, and increase their access to prey.
Reduce the exposure of Southern Resident orcas and their prey to contaminants.
Ensure that funding, information and accountability mechanisms are in place to support effective implementation.
Now what? According to the governor’s web page the “governor and staff will assess each recommendation for the most impact in the short and long-term." And “The governor will roll out his budget and policy priorities in mid-December for consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session.”
So it will be up to the politicians to support, or oppose, what the next steps will be, and on the subject, the governor has requested the task force to issue another report by October of next year “outlining the progress made, lessons learned and outstanding needs” to continue to address the goal of protecting and increasing the members of the Southern Resident orcas.
The report listed three major threats to the Southern Resident orcas. identified in the 2005 listing under the Endangered Species Act. and in Gov. Inslee’s executive order:
Lack of prey
The Southern Resident orca diet is composed primarily of Chinook salmon.
Several runs of Chinook salmon that could provide important prey for Southern Resident orcas are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. To be abundant, diverse and sustainable, Chinook need productive and protected habitat as well as a reliable supply of forage fish to feed on. Development activities and fish passage barriers such as impassable dams, tide gates and culverts have led to habitat loss for both salmon and forage fish. Predators such as sea lions, harbor seals, fish and birds consume Chinook and reduce the number available to the orcas where their foraging areas overlap. Salmon harvesting in fisheries in Alaska, British Columbia, off Washington’s coast or in Washington’s inland waters can further reduce the number of Chinook available for the orcas. Hatchery production could play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Residents but also poses genetic and ecological risks to wild populations if not managed carefully. Addressing lack of prey therefore requires addressing all these issues:
habitat, forage fish, hydropower, predation, harvest and hatcheries.
Disturbance from noise and vessel traffic
Vessels transiting near Southern Resident orcas can produce underwater noise that masks or impairs orca communication and echolocation (the method orcas use to find their prey). This makes it harder for orcas to find food and reduces the time orcas devote to foraging by almost 20 percent, reducing their potential prey intake and increasing their energy expenditure.
Southern Residents and their prey are exposed to an ever-increasing mixture of pollutants in the marine environment, particularly in the Salish Sea. Many of the pollutants are poorly metabolized, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate and bio-magnify in the food web. These toxics can reduce salmon survival by making them more susceptible to disease, which in turn means less food is available to the orcas. The toxic contaminants can also reduce immunity and cause reproductive disruption in orcas.