Coordinated effort underway to protect and recover Southern Resident Orca

Please direct all press enquiries to the Governors office:
Jaime Smith 
Executive Director of Communications

On March 14, 2018, Governor Jay Inslee signed an Executive Order directing immediate statewide action to benefit Southern Resident orcas, which are considered to be in imminent danger of extinction. View a video recording of the signing ceremony.

View state agency actions requested by the Governor

Orca recovery Task Force established

The Executive Order establishes a task force to coordinate with British Columbia, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Alaska in developing policy recommendations at the regional, state, and federal levels. The Governor has asked the Puget Sound Partnership and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to team up in leading support for the task force, with assistance from the Office of Financial Management and the Governor’s Policy Office. At the Governor’s request, Stephanie Solien, vice chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council, will co-chair the task force, along with Les Purce, formerly president of Evergreen State College and mayor of Pocatello, Idaho. Members will include representatives of 12 state agencies and offices, along with representatives of native tribes, federal and local governments, and the private, academic, and non-profit sectors. Each of the four state legislative caucuses will be invited to appoint a member. WDFW and the Puget Sound Partnership will organize staff and subject-matter experts to support the task force.


  • Initial meeting: To be scheduled in April or May 2018
  • Draft report due: October 1, 2018
  • Complete report due: November 1, 2018 (includes recommendations)
  • Followup report due: October 1, 2019 (outlines progress, lessons learned, outstanding needs)

Southern Resident orca—endangered since 2005

Southern Resident orcas have been protected in the U.S. since 1972 under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), but continued population declines resulted in the orcas being listed as endangered in 2005 under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). In Canada, they are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act.

Despite these protections, the population has fallen sharply over the past 20 years, from 98 in 1995 to 76 in 2018—a 22-percent decline. This represents the fewest Southern Resident orcas in more than three decades.

Three primary factors threaten the orcas: a lack of prey, principally Chinook salmon; toxic contaminants; and disturbance from vessel noise and traffic.

Recovery of orca depends on recovery of Chinook salmon

Chinook salmon comprise a large proportion of the diet of Southern Resident orcas. Reduced Chinook runs undermine the ability of the orcas to reproduce and recover. The Executive Order also aims to make prey more abundant for the orcas by creating healthier Chinook salmon runs.

Chinook salmon need a healthy and dependable environment in which to travel and reproduce, but are threatened by habitat loss, toxic pollutants (particularly those in stormwater runoff), streams blocked by development, predators, and newly arriving invasive fish. The loss of habitat and diminished water quality are key threats that led to the listing of Chinook salmon as a federally endangered species almost 20 years ago.

Executive Order requires immediate state agency action

The Executive Order details immediate action on the part of several state agencies, as summarized in the following table.

Due Date Agencies involved Action

April 30, 2018

WDFW and Parks

Increase enforcement and education concerning vessels and Chinook salmon fisheries

April 30, 2018


Expand training programs that teach whale-watching vessels how to assist in the event of an oil spill

April 30, 2018


Review and amend, as needed, 2018 recreational and commercial fishing regulations prioritizing protection of key areas and fish runs for Southern Resident orca recovery

April 30, 2018


Explore options and develop a proposal to alter fish food used in state hatcheries to limit the amount of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the prey of Southern Resident orca

July 1, 2018

Partnership, WDFW, Parks, DOL, GSRO

Prioritize existing outreach resources to support Southern Resident orca recovery. Collaborate with the Governor’s Office to develop a public education program and identify needed resources

July 31, 2018

WDFW (with review by the Partnership and GSRO)

identify high priorities for Southern Resident orcas and adjust programs if needed

July 31, 2018


Prioritize funding for stormwater mitigation projects that contribute to southern resident recovery

December 15, 2018

Partnership, WDFW, GSRO

Demonstrate how Chinook recovery projects benefit Southern Resident orca recovery for the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, the Estuary and Salmon Restoration program, and the Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative

DOL = Washington Department of Licensing
Ecology = Washington Department of Ecology
GSRO = Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office
Parks = Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
The Partnership = Puget Sound Partnership

WDFW = Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries: federal agency responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act and implementing federal actions to recover Southern Resident orcas

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: state agency responsible for protecting Washington state’s fish and wildlife

Washington State Department of Ecology: state agency responsible for protecting the quality of Washington’s marine and fresh waters

Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office: housed within the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office, GSRO is charged with coordinating a statewide salmon recovery plan