WASHINGTON -- The latest attempt to restore salmon populations and protect highly endangered Southern Resident orcas, announced by federal agency leaders today, comes up short. Many years of research shows that restoring the lower Snake River by removing its four dams is the best - and likely only - way to ensure salmon recovery and steer Southern Resident Orcas away from extinction. But the plan officially adopted by the agencies rejects river restoration through dam removal, and instead focuses on spilling salmon over dams’ tops during their migration to ocean in spring and summer.
Today, just 74 Southern Resident orcas remain, and scientists predict their numbers will continue to sink unless we act to rebuild robust chinook salmon populations in Northwest Coastal waters. Dams on the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers prevent many adult chinook salmon from safely reaching their spawning grounds and kill millions of juvenile salmon as they migrate to the Pacific Ocean. As a result, all Snake River salmon populations face extinction today, and a lack of prey means that Southern Resident orcas are starving.
In 2018, an orca mother named Tahlequah brought national attention to the hardship facing the species when, in mourning, she carried the body of her dead calf over 1,000 miles. Earlier this month, Tahlequah gave birth to a healthy calf, and just last week, another orca mother gave birth. Removing dams along the Lower Snake River will help ensure that these calves, their mothers, and the rest of the Southern Resident orcas live long, healthy lives.
Pam Clough, state director for Environment Washington, issued the following statement:
“The families of orcas that swim, hunt, and socialize in the Puget Sound and Northwest coastal waters deserve to live long, healthy lives. These social, majestic whales are too precious to lose. When we restore rivers like the lower Snake, we can restore the species and the ecosystems we all rely upon. Anything less -- like the agencies plan -- risks extinction. We can’t let these amazing animals disappear on our watch.”