SACRAMENTO -- Federal authorities will consider lifting endangered species protections for a class of killer whales after property rights attorneys claimed the listing could harm Central Valley farmers.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Nov. 26 that it would begin a one-year review of the southern resident killer whale's status.
The decision comes after the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition in August asserting that the whale, which swims in the marine waters of the Pacific Northwest, is not biologically different from other orcas found in oceans all over the world.
The PLF argues the whale's continued listing puts farmers at risk because salmon and steelhead found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are part of the orca's food supply.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release that the PLF's petition presents new information from scientific journal articles about killer whale genetics. The articles address issues such as how closely related this small population is to other groups of orcas, meeting the agency's standard for accepting a petition for review.
National Marine Fisheries will gather public input and other information about the whale's potential removal from the list. Any formal proposal to delist the whale would be followed by a separate comment period and public hearings before a final decision could be made.
The southern resident killer whale has been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 2005, and there are currently 86 whales in the population, according to NOAA. A previous petition to delist it failed in 2006.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, originally sought the whale's listing. Noah Greenwald, the center's endangered species director, said this summer the whales are the only ones that feed almost exclusively on fish, have a different dialect among whales and are genetically distinct.
The PLF submitted its petition Aug. 2 to NOAA and the U.S. Department of Commerce on behalf of the Fresno-based Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability and two California farms.
-- Tim Hearden
Pacific Legal Foundation: http://www.pacificlegal.org/
National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Regional Office: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/
Center for Biological Diversity: www.biologicaldiversity.org