Washington Governor Proposes Dramatic Plan to Save Dying Orca Population

The plan will require $1.1 billion and involve a number of controversial measures

In an ambitious effort to save a flailing Northwest orca population, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has announced a dramatic—and costly—conservation plan. As Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times reports, the proposed orca recovery measures call for $1.1 billion in funding and a number of controversial actions, among them supporting a task force that will investigate the possibility of breaching dams on the Lower Snake River.

Orcas that dwell in the waters off Washington, Oregon and British Columbia—known as southern resident killer whales—have experienced dramatic declines in recent years. As of September 2018, the southern resident population numbered just 74 individuals, the lowest in more than three decades. Several factors are pushing the whales towards extinction, including toxins in the water and rumbling from ship traffic, which can interfere with orcas’ ability to communicate about prey through echolocation. But a major threat to their survival is a decline in Chinook salmon, the whales’ primary food source, due to habitat destruction and intensive commercial fishing.

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