By Manuel Valdes Associated Press
SEATTLE — Property rights advocates and California farmers filed a petition on Thursday urging the government to delist Pacific Northwest orcas from the Endangered Species Act, arguing that group of whales is not a subspecies.
“They invented a subspecies,” said Damien M. Schiff, an attorney for the Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Legal Foundation. “Federal officials simply can’t create a new subspecies classification in order to protect” species.
The petition was filed with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic &Atmospheric Administration. The government has 90 days to review the petition’s findings, which include science studies commissioned by the law firm that say the orcas aren’t any different from other orcas around the world.
A previous petition by this group failed in 2006.
The orcas in question live in Puget Sound and nearby Canadian waters. They were listed as endangered in 2005. There are about 85 whales divided into three different pods, according to the Center for Whale Research.
The petition alleges that the orcas’ endangered listing has affected water supplies to California farmers due to restrictions placed to protect salmon that the orcas eat.
“It seems almost outrageous that a killer whale out in the ocean is reducing our water,” said Joe Del Bosque, president of Del Bosque Farms in Firebaugh, Calif. When there is no food in their area, the whales “can migrate.”
But conservationist groups dismissed the petition.
“This petition is based on make-believe law and made-up biology,” said Earthjustice spokeswoman Kristen Boyles. “It’s a distraction. People up here in the Puget Sound area are working hard to protect our orcas. They mean a lot to us, and that’s what the focus should be.”
Boyles said biologists have determined these orcas have distinct dialects, pod structures and diets.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said “the petition argues that the Endangered Species Act does not allow listing of distinct population segments of a subspecies, rather only a species, but have already lost this argument in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”