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Endangered Species Law and Policy

NMFS Considers Delisting a Distinct Population Segment of the Southern Resident Killer Whale

Posted in Conservation, Delisting, Listing

On November 26, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS or the Service) accepted a petition to delist a distinct population segment (DPS) of the Southern Resident killer whales, which is currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The DPS, estimated to include 88 individuals, was initially listed as endangered under the ESA in 2005.  These killer whales are "resident" type, fish-eating whales that spend a specific period of time each year in the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. 

On August 2, 2012, the Service received a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability, Empresas Del Bosque, and Coburn Ranch to delist the endangered Southern Resident killer whale.  The petition asserts that there is no scientific basis for the designation of the Southern Resident killer whale as a distinct population segment, and that the population is part of a larger segment and not in danger of extinction.

Pursuant to ESA section 4(b)(3)(A), the Secretary of Commerce made a 90-day finding that substantial scientific or commercial information in the petition indicates that the petitioned action may be warranted.  The Service has initiated a 12-month review of the status of the Southern Resident killer whale to fully determine whether the petitioned action to delist the killer whale is warranted.  As part of the review process, the Service solicits scientific and commercial information related to the species.

The 90-day determination that there is substantial scientific or commercial information in the petition does not prejudice the outcome of the more comprehensive 12-month review.  Although, the species will remain listed unless the 12-month review process requires a reversal, the future status of the Southern Resident killer whale is uncertain.