Commission lists Southern Resident orcas as endangered, adopts survival guidelines, Feb. 19

ODFW release – HILLSBORO, Ore.—The Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted unanimously to list Southern Resident orcas as endangered under Oregon’s Endangered Species Act (OESA). Southern Resident orcas now number just 75 whales in three pods and have been listed as endangered under federal law since 2005. Their reproductive potential is in danger of failure due to their small population size, inbreeding, and other reproductive issues. Scarcity of prey (especially Chinook, their preferred prey), sound and vessel disturbance and exposure to high levels of contaminants are the primary reasons for their decline. The Oregon Coast is an important travel corridor for Southern Resident orcas in the K and L pods with the area near the Columbia River mouth serving as a foraging hotspot. Oregon’s coastal waters (6-200 m depth) were federally designated as critical habitat in 2021. The Commission also adopted survival guidelines for Southern Resident orcas. These are required under OESA and apply to actions proposed on state lands or waters and help guide state agencies that play a role in conservation until the Commission approves a management plan for these agencies. Guidelines adopted direct relevant state agencies to further monitor and address pollutants especially those posing the highest risk for Southern Resident orcas and their prey; increase boater education on the current federal vessel buffer guidelines to reduce vessel and noise disturbance; enhance hatchery Chinook salmon production if capacity and funding exists; and increase efforts to prevent oil and other hazardous material spills. In other business, the Commission appointed Davia Palmeri as interim director. Palmeri will serve in the position starting April 1, 2024 (when current ODFW Director Curt Melcher retires) until a new permanent director starts at ODFW. In her six years at ODFW, Palmeri has served as the Conservation Policy Coordinator and Tribal Policy Coordinator. Last year, she served in a six-month rotation as Acting Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. She is currently serving as the Acting Land Resources Program Manager. Palmeri is not applying for the permanent director position. (Commissioners indicated they would choose an interim director who was not a candidate for the position during their Jan. 26 meeting.) Chair Wahl also discussed the timeline for selecting a permanent director, noting that the Commission expects to select a new director at the May meeting. The public forum with final candidates is also expected to occur in May. A recording of the meeting is available at

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