Fisheries Service offers mild plan to preserve Puget Sound orcas

The much-beloved and much-beleaguered orcas of Puget Sound in Washington state are the focus of a tepid new National Marine Fisheries Service conservation plan. It emphasizes cleaning up the sound, preventing oil spills, and trying to boost the salmon population — pretty much what the government is already doing, as even the NMFS admits. However, if the orcas are listed under the Endangered Species Act this December, as is being considered, a new, more intensive recovery plan will have to be devised. An estimated 91 of the black-and-white marine mammals now spend part of the year in the sound, up from a low of 79 four years ago; biologists say 120 would be the ideal number for a safely self-sustaining population. The orcas face a triple threat: chemical pollution of the water; boats and noise, which may be impeding their communication and hunting; and fewer and fewer salmon, the orcas’ favorite food. “It’s about the habitat; it’s about prey availability; it’s about the whole ecosystem,” says marine activist Joe Gaydos.