"Critical Habitat" for Orcas Leaves Pockets of Vulnerability, Critics Say

August 7, 2006

This June a U.S. federal agency proposed that a vast swath of Washington State's Puget Sound region be granted federal protections to ensure the survival of an iconic killer whale population.

But area residents Tom and Margo Wyckoff, retired healthcare workers, were shocked to learn that Hood Canal, a barb-shaped fjord that slices a narrow path into the Olympic Peninsula, was excluded from the ruling.

(Download and print a map of killer whale habitat in the Pacific Northwest.)

"We'd seen the whales—the southern resident killer whales—in the late '50s, '70s, and '80s and once in '95 in Hood Canal," Margo Wyckoff said.

To prove the point, she and her husband are collecting photographs, oral histories, diaries, and U.S. Navy sound recordings of the whales from the region.

So far a group of whales seen in two 1973 photographs taken in the canal have been identified as belonging to J pod, one of the three whale groups that make up the endangered population.

"One of the whales, who was a calf at the time, is still alive and still roaming around with J pod," Margo said.

"And is the mother of three offspring," Tom added.

This week the Wyckoffs, together with about 40 other Hood Canal residents, will present their evidence to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Critical Habitat

Killer whales, also known as orcas, are actually the largest form of dolphin (related kids feature: orca fun facts).

The Wyckoffs and other residents hope to secure protection for the animals' historic Hood Canal habitat.

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