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Save Our Orcas

Orcas in the Puget Sound are critically endangered. If we don’t act soon, they could go extinct within our lifetimes.

Three summers ago, the world watched as a grieving orca mother carried her dead calf for 17 days. They were members of one of the Southern Resident orca pods that make their home in the Puget Sound — and scientists warn that this iconic Pacific Northwest species will not survive unless we take bold action. These orcas are critically endangered. Fewer than 75 Southern Resident orcas remain today — among the lowest number in decades.

  • <h5>Southern Resident orcas are listed as critically endangered.</h5><em>Elovich via Shutterstock</em>
  • <h5>Fewer than 75 Southern Resident orcas remain today, among the lowest in decades.</h5><em>NOAA</em>
  • <h5>73 Southern Resident orcas have died or gone missing since 1998, while only 41 have been born. There has been only one live orca birth in the last three years.</h5><em>NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium</em>
  • <h5>Chinook salmon make up 80 percent of Southern Resident orcas' diet — but there aren’t enough to go around.</h5><em>r_NOKDUE via Shutterstock</em>
  • <h5>Salmon populations in the Puget Sound have dropped by 90 percent since the construction of the Lower Snake River dams.</h5><em>U.S. Army Corps of Engineers</em>
Why are the orcas dying?

Vessel noise and water pollution in the Puget Sound play a role, but primarily, scientists point to the disappearance of Chinook salmon — the orcas’ main food source.

Southern Resident orcas eat almost nothing but Chinook salmon — it makes up 80 percent of their diet. But these salmon are rapidly vanishing because their path from spawning rivers into the Puget Sound is blocked by multiple dams. In total, the Lower Snake River dams obstruct 140 miles of prime salmon migration waterways, and salmon populations have declined by 90 percent since they were built. All Snake River salmon runs are now listed as threatened or endangered, including the Chinook salmon that orcas depend on.

How can we save them?

To save the orcas, we need to save their food source. If we don’t act fast to boost Chinook salmon populations, we could lose our orcas forever.

Fortunately, public awareness and concern about the orcas is on the rise, and we’re already seeing leadership from Gov. Jay Inslee and our state leaders to improve habitat in the Puget Sound.

Gov. Inslee established the Orca Recovery Task Force, which has already issued a set of recommendations to reduce pollution and vessel noise in the Puget Sound as well as to restore Chinook salmon — and our state legislators have been working to implement them.

But ultimately, the most effective thing we can do to restore the salmon populations in the Puget Sound is to remove the Lower Snake River dams.

With your help, we can win

Environment Washington has a long track record of working to protect and restore the Puget Sound. We led the campaign to keep plastic out of the Sound with a ban on plastic bags in Seattle in 2012 — and we successfully took that ban statewide.

Thousands of our members and a strong network of supporters want to join us in saving the orcas, and our staff of organizers, advocates and researchers are ready to make their voices heard.

Breaching the dams will require federal Congressional approval — but without the support of our own state Congressional delegation and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, there’s no chance that the U.S. Congress will act. That’s why your support is critical. We need to tell our senators that their constituents support bold action to save our salmon and orcas.

Join our call for action

Along with millions of other Washingtonians, we believe that we must do everything in our power to save our orcas. If you agree, you can help by urging our senators to support breaching the Lower Snake River dams to restore the salmon populations that our orcas need to survive and thrive.