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Whale researchers: Puget Sound's orcas are starving

Whale Researchers: Orcas are starving (PHOTO: Center for Whale Research, taken under permit #388 from DFO in Canada)

SEATTLE - The effort to save the orcas who 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 share their reaction to the growing problem and the governor's $1.1 billion dollar 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. Which means we go out to fishing boats and take them to the cannery,” said Anderson.

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.

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.

There are only 74 orcas left in the southern resident population.

Anderson isn’t sure we could save the orcas.

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

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

“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 a change for the beloved animals

“Orcas come here and live. It’s not a livable place for them anymore.

The governor’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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