Inslee statement on suspected death of Southern Resident orca K-21

August 5, 2021

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"I am saddened to hear the news that one of the 75 remaining endangered Southern Resident orcas, K-21 - a 35-year-old male - was seen this week emaciated and struggling off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The whales have been seen less and less frequently in Puget Sound, their usual summer home, a clear sign that the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem is not improving fast enough.

"K-21’s struggle highlights just how important it is that we all continue to do our part to give these iconic and beloved whales the best chance of survival. The whales need space from boats. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) issued an emergency rule last week requiring commercial whale watching boats to stay a half mile away from K-21, who is now presumed deceased. If you’re boating in Puget Sound, please be Whale Wise and keep your distance to give orcas the opportunity to feed, travel and socialize. Thank you to NOAA for announcing an expansion of the Southern Resident orca critical habitat designation to the coastal waters of Washington, Oregon and California today.

"It is time for big, bold changes in how we look at salmon and orca recovery. The Southern Resident orcas are suffering from multiple threats, including a lack of food, which is primarily Chinook salmon, and as keystone species, the orca and salmon are telling us to do better in protecting our waters. While we have done some transformative work recently, we must do more. The health of our salmon and the Southern Resident orcas are irreversibly intertwined and the recovery of one hinges on the survival of the other.

"Despite progress, too many salmon runs are on the brink of extinction. We have to look at the roles of hatcheries, hydropower, habitat and harvest.  It is time for transformative clean water infrastructure for salmon and people, time to make major advancements in salmon habitat, including fixing fish passage barriers, and time to address climate resiliency in all the work we do. This also highlights the critical importance that the Federal Infrastructure package can play in salmon and orca recovery in our state.

"We have a once in a generation opportunity to make a difference so that we do not lose Southern Resident orcas from our state. To be from the Northwest is to know salmon and orca as part of our landscape and our shared heritage – and we must dedicate ourselves to their protection."

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