Orca whales in the waters around Washington may soon get much more room to roam safely, thanks to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity that aims to expand critical habitat for the species. NOAA announced on Thursday it would consider protecting the endangered population of southern resident orca whales off the west coast.
The petition aims to include waters from Cape Flattery, Wash., to Point Reyes, Calif., as critical habitat -- adding to the inland waters of Washington which are already designated for protection. These protections would force federal officials to limit activities that harm the whales. The population of southern resident whales was identified as endangered in 2005.
"Despite nearly a decade of federal protection, the Puget Sound's orca population remains perilously small, hovering around only 80 animals," said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney at the Center, which petitioned in January for the additional habitat protections. "This proposal is an important step toward recovery and will help the whales stave off extinction."