Big headlines recently: orcas may get a critical habitat designation that includes most of Puget Sound. Bold move, right?
Well, yes and no.
Federal agencies acted with surprising speed to release the draft plan; and the plan does include the greater part of US waters in Washington. But the critical habitat designation is missing something very odd: waters that are less than 20 feet deep.
Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound says the plan is an oversight because shallow water is “nearshore habitat”, essential for salmon, the orcas’ principal food; and because the nearshore environment is also the source of whale-harming pollution. Brian Gorman of National Marine Fisheries replies that Fletcher’s argument is nuts because it could extend orca habitat onto land. (The whales depend indirectly on terrestial ecosystems.) Gorman says the designation should cover only places where the whales actually live and swim—i.e. deep water.
I’m going with Fletcher on this one. Salmon scarcity and pollution are probably the two biggest reasons why there are so few orcas. So not protecting nearshore habitat—the source of both—is indeed an oversight.
It’s almost as whacky as if federal officials were to argue that because people don’t live in the atmosphere, the atmosphere isn’t important to human health.