Environment
Chiara Rose D'Angelo-Patricio with the Endangered Species Coalition speaks at the southern killer whale task force meeting in Anacortes
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Chiara Rose D'Angelo-Patricio with the Endangered Species Coalition speaks at the southern killer whale task force meeting in Anacortes
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Hundreds crowd orca task force meeting in Anacortes

Hundreds of people showed up at the Swinomish Casino in Anacortes on Tuesday, but not to gamble. They wanted to have their say on the state’s endangered orcas.

Governor Jay Inslee’s killer whale task force, with the urgent task of figuring out how to keep Washington’s orcas from going extinct, met there. The task force is focusing on pollution, boat noise, and the shortage of salmon for the surviving 75 members of the southern resident killer whales.

Those orcas’ numbers have been in trouble for decades, but public interest surged this summer after the orca known as J-35 or Tahlequah carried her dead, newborn calf around for weeks.  

Some speakers at the meeting pleaded for action on their favored solution.

“I would like this task force to consider doing something bold,” Stephanie Buffum with Friends of the San Juans said. "Doing something to stop the illegal construction of shoreline development."

Others explained.

"There are only 27 adult females that are mature and 7 immature females," retired U.S. Marine Mammal Commission head Tim Ragen said. "My point is, this is really, really an emergency and a real crisis."

Some told personal stories. Some got choked up.

Some sang. 

Some went way over their two-minute limit.

One played orca calls from her phone.

A few showed up in fuzzy orca costumes. 

Whether they were from the standing-room-only crowd or the sprawling, 44-member task force, almost everyone at the day-long meeting spoke of the urgency of action for orcas, the salmon they eat and the habitats they depend on.

“If we're going to make a difference, then we need to start making a difference today," said Debra Lekanof, intergovernmental affairs liaison with the Swinomish Tribe, which hosted the meeting. "It all comes down to the political will of Washington state.” 

The orca task force has no authority—it can only make recommendations to the governor and the legislature. Its report is due in the fall. 

Task force members urged people who want to help orcas to let their elected officials hear about it. 

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