Fact Sheets:

Vital Connection: Orcas, Salmon & the Snake River Dams

By Sharon Grace

Southern Resident Orcas Are Critically Endangered

  • NOAA listed the Southern Residents as endangered in 2005 when there were 88 orcas. Now, a decade later, there are 81.
  • The SRKW historical population was approximately 140 whales (Species in the Spotlight Report, p. 30.)
  • Per the NOAA 2008 recovery plan, the SRKW population must increase by an average 2.3 percent per year for 28 years to be removed from the Endangered Species list. NMFS (2008) Recovery Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca), p. v.
  • The Southern Resident community of orcas is among the eight most endangered species protected by NOAA, per NOAA’s Species in the Spotlight Report, May 2015.

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Top 10 Reasons the Lower Snake River Dams will be Breached

The issue isn’t whether we can afford to breach the four Lower Snake River dams, but whether we can afford not to breach them. ~ Linwood Laughy

1. The Corps’ $600 Million System Improvement Efforts on the Lower Snake River Have Failed.

Dams kill fish, millions of fish. In 2002 the Corps of Engineers’ Walla Walla District convinced the public that the most acceptable alternative for saving Snake River threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and recapturing the many benefits of recovered fish runs was to modify fish passage over and through the dams with System Improvements. Since then, the Corps has spent approximately $600 million—on just the four lower Snake dams—attempting to improve fish passage, and the Corps intends to spend more.

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Science Facts

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are spiraling toward extinction

“Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is perhaps the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales.  We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years.  Their futures are intricately linked.” — Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington (2015).

Compiled by Sharon Grace


• The Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) are critically endangered.

• After nearly a decade on the endangered species list, these killer whales are not recovering.  There were 88 whales when listed in 2005; today there are just 80.

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Economic Value

Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales Add Minimum of $65-$70 Million to Washington State’s Economy—They Would Be Missed

Compiled by Sharon Grace


• Wildlife watchers spend nearly $1 billion annually in Washington, primarily in rural areas.

• In 2001, 47% of Washington’s residents participated in wildlife watching, compared to 16% percent in fishing and 5% in hunting.

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SRKW Core Habitat

“The  fundamental  questions  that  now  need  to  be  asked:   Who  is  responsible  for  ensuring  these whales  have  enough  Chinook  salmon  in  their  “core  summer  habitat”,  also  known  as  their  “Critical Habitat”?   What  steps  need  to  be  taken  to  ensure  that  a  lack  of  Chinook  salmon  does  not  drive  these whales  elsewhere  to  find  the  food  they  need  to  survive?”

Retired engineer Jane Cogan examines the Southern Resident Killer Whales summer core habitat.  Please click the link below to read her report: Southern Resident Killer Whale project.

Southern Resident Killer Whale Project (pdf)