Victory for Orcas in the Fight Against Coal!

from Wildlife Promise

Since 1900, Puget Sound Chinook salmon populations have declined 93% and nine runs of Chinook have gone extinct. Orca whales, which eat primarily salmon, have declined by half. Source: Minette Layne/WikiMedia Commons

Since 1900, Puget Sound Chinook salmon populations have declined 93% and nine runs of Chinook have gone extinct. Orca whales, which eat primarily salmon, have declined by half. Source: Minette Layne/WikiMedia Commons

Folks, it’s time to break out the champagne because your efforts in July have brought us much closer to greater protections for wild orcas!

Last week, Whatcom County in the state of Washington mandated a sweeping environmental review of a proposed port that would export dirty coal to China. The move, pursued by the state’s Department of Ecology, Whatcom County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could put the kibosh on the Gateway Pacific project altogether.

It is a hard-fought victory for orca advocates and conservationists who have pushed back against the dangerous impacts of coal exports. It also demonstrates that awareness is increasing of the dangerous threat dirty fuels pose to our land, water, air and wildlife.

Orcas that live off the coast of Washington and Oregon are some of the most critically endangered marine mammals.  Big Coal’s designs to build several terminals like Gateway Pacific in the region’s waters threaten to further jeopardize this population of wild orcas and the quality of their ocean habitat.

The True Cost of Coal

The environmental review, which could take up to two years, will look at the both the local impacts to communities and wildlife as well as the contribution of the coal exports to global climate change. National Wildlife Federation opposes the building of new coal export terminals in the region because of the major risks they pose to orcas, their habitat and the aquatic food chain upon which they rely. These risks include:

  • An Orca breaches near Washington State's San Juan Islands (photo: TheGirlsNY/flickr.com)

    An Orca breaches near Washington State’s San Juan Islands (photo: TheGirlsNY/flickr.com)

    Increased noise pollution from massive barges could disrupt orcas’ ability to communicate to one another and locate prey.
  • More traffic from large cargo ships to and from the area would greatly increase the possibility of collisions with the whales themselves.
  • The possibility of a toxic oil spills will increase as the number of ships crowding the waters increases. A spill could have catastrophic and possibly extinction-level results for local orcas.
  • Heavier traffic could also lead to an upswing in invasive species that hitch a ride in the ballast water of ships.  These invasive species could alter the delicate food web so many marine mammals depend upon.
  • Increased development could degrade precious herring habitat around Cherry Point, where populations are already rapidly dwindling.  These herring are a stable in the diet of the salmon that are a major food source for orcas.

This move toward stricter environmental impact assessment is a big win for wildlife advocates and orca fans alike.  It will set a precedent for decision-makers to take a comprehensive look at cumulative environmental impacts from such would-be developments.

“This victory just goes to show what can be accomplished with your support of key wildlife campaigns like NWF’s campaign for orcas” said Kassie Rohrbach, Dirty Fuels Campaign Fair Manager at National Wildlife Federation.  ”A big thanks goes out to all those that backed NWF in July and took a stand for orcas!”

Donate Now Button While this is a great victory for orcas, the fight against dirty fuels is far from over. Please donate today to keep up the fight for Puget Sound orcas and many more wildlife!