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Save the whales: Advocates fear for starving Puget Sound orcas

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By SUZANNE PHAN, KOMO

SEATTLE (CIRCA via KOMO) — The effort to save the orcas that live in the Puget Sound has taken on new urgency after a longtime researcher revealed two of the whales might not make it to summer.

A clean water advocate and a local fisherman shared their reactions to the growing problem and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's $1.1 billion proposal to save the orcas.

Jeff Anderson is a crab fisherman and a captain of a salmon tender.

“From June to November, we tender salmon," he said, "which means we go out to fishing boats and take them to the cannery."

Between his two boats, the Narada and the Pacific Mist, he and his crew can take in 325,000 pounds of chum salmon. As a fisherman, Anderson sees first-hand what’s happening to the orca population.

"It’s very sad that they’re declining," said Anderson.

Saving Orcas Boat Tours
FILE - In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca leaps out of the water near a whale watching boat in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A photo taken on New Year’s Eve of the orca known as "J-17" shows that the animal is starving.

Ken Balcomb, with the Center for Whale Research, says an orca in the K-pod is also dangerously thin—due to the lack of fish.

Anderson isn’t sure the orcas can be saved.

"They’re like the spotted owls of 20 years ago," he said. "They will probably dwindle down and then something will change and they’ll come back."

The governor's $1.1 billion Orca Recovery Plan includes dealing with pollution runoff, helping fish hatcheries, and adding quieter, hybrid-electric ferries.

"Orcas come here and live. It’s not a livable place for them anymore."
Jeff Anderson, crab fisherman and captain of a salmon tender

"Our orcas are critically in danger," said Chris Wilke, the executive director of clean water advocate Puget Soundkeeper. He says now is the time to act.

"We need to get toxic chemicals out of our sewage. We need to protect our storm water. And we need to clean up our streams in rural areas to make sure they are hospitable for salmon, so we can have the abundant salmon resources we once had," said Wilke.

For Anderson, change is a part of life. And it might mean a time for change for the beloved animals.

"Orcas come here and live," he said. "It’s not a livable place for them anymore."

Inslee's budget proposal to save the orcas also includes a temporary, three-year ban on all whale-watching of southern resident orcas.

The southern resident orca population is at its lowest point in 35 years, with just 74 left.

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