June 2018 marks the 12th annual Orca Awareness Month, which spans Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. June is a month to celebrate our iconic Southern Resident Killer Whales, and to work to protect this endangered population.

The survival of the 76 remaining Southern Resident killer whales and the Chinook salmon runs that they depend upon are tied directly to the health of the Salish Sea. Puget Sound orcas were listed as endangered in 2005, and lack of Chinook salmon, their primary prey, has caused the population to suffer high rates of mortality and miscarriages. Only 22 of at least 37 historic Chinook populations remain, and those salmon runs are at only 10% of their historic numbers.

The whales also accumulate toxic pollutants like PCBs and flame retardants in their blubber. When there isn’t enough food, they metabolize their fat stores, releasing these chemicals into their bloodstream. Orcas are some of the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Reducing pollution is critical for protecting the health of our waters and the whales’ ability to survive.

On March 14, Governor Inslee signed an executive order to designate state agencies to take immediate actions to benefit our Southern Resident orcas. The Orca Recovery Task Force, made up of members of the Legislature, the Government of Canada, representatives from tribal, federal, local, and other state governments, private sector, and the non-profit sector, will develop long-term action recommendations for orca recovery and future sustainability.

You can support orca recovery by signing on to a letter asking the newly formed Orca Recovery Task Force to prioritize action on salmon recovery, pollution prevention, noise reduction, and oil spill risk.

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