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Depoe Bay First Oregon Coast Town to Sign Proclamation to Support Southern Resident Orcas

Published 06/12/23 at 12:21 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Last week, one Oregon coast town went to bat for local populations of southern resident orcas, as Depoe Bay signed a proclamation declaring it supports real action to assist the species and bring it back from the brink of extinction. The document recognizes the rights of these special brand of killer whales, foremost its right to exist. (Orcas off Depoe Bay, courtesy Oregon State Parks )

Depoe Bay is the first on the Oregon coast to sign such a declaration, with Depoe Bay's mayor Kathy Short, along with City Council Members of the City of Depoe Bay making it official. By doing so, Depoe Bay signals its support of the growing call for concrete action to restore the species, which includes federal and Oregon authorities doing more on their end.

The proclamation comes from Earth Law Center (ELC) and Legal Rights for the Salish Sea (LRSS) – the latter of which is a community group based in Gig Harbor, Washington.

“The proclamation really spelled it out that their food supply and habitat is in danger so we want to do all we can to help keep them safe. As the whale watching capital of the world, we value and love the southern resident orcas.” said Mayor Short.

Orcas off Depoe Bay, courtesy Oregon State Parks

This is the first town in Oregon to declare their support of further measures, while numerous Washington coast cities have done so in recent years. That includes Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, Langley, Bainbridge, and Des Moines, along with San Juan and Pierce counties.

Southern resident orcas have seen a major decline since the '90s, continuing even after they were declared an endangered species in 2005. Now they're classified as one of the most gravely-endangered creatures on the planet, with only 73 left today. 1995 saw a “peak” of 98.

They are not seen often on the Oregon coast, largely because there's so few. When they are spotted and ID'd as such, it's cause for a little bit of celebration among the whale experts keeping track of them in the region.

Currently, Oregon wildlife officials have urged lawmakers to declare these whales endangered in this state on top of the federal designation. That petition is still pending. NOAA recently revised their critical habitat designation under the federal Endangered Species Act to include western U.S. coastal waters beyond the
Salish Sea.

There is also an infant mortality issue with the southern residents. Half of their newborns in 2016 died, while none of those calves born in 2017 survived.

ELC and LRSS – along with just about all killer whale experts – say that their situation is critical.

Depoe Bay Signs Declaration to Help Southern Resident Orcas Along West Coast, Oregon
Photo courtesy Josh McInnes / British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Marine Mammal Research Unit - Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Program

Part of the reason for their dire straits is their food source, which is mostly Chinook salmon. That species of salmon, in turn, is greatly knocked down in numbers because of the dams on the Columbia River. Efforts to breach them are continuing now, with experts saying even just one breach could mean a greater restoration of the whales' food sources.

Michelle Bender, Ocean Campaigns Director at Earth Law Center, said that while the proclamations are not binding, they show local constituents the resolve of leaders.

“After working on and vetting a draft bill with multiple legislatures, we were asked to show that the constituents would support State level action recognizing and respecting the inherent rights of the Southern Residents,” she said.

Various towns along the Oregon coast were able to witness some of the southern resident orca population back in April. Three of them were spotted near Brookings around April 5, after having been seen in California just before that.

Southern resident orcas are one of three subsets of resident orcas in the Pacific.

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Photos below of orcas near Depoe Bay, courtesy Edith Hitchings

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Coastal Spotlight

Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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