However, that has not stopped about 136,000 people from weighing in on the issue before this week’s deadline for comments.
“We are looking for factual scientific information that helps us come to a rational, science-based conclusion,” said Brian Gorman, spokesman for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
Many of the comments reflect how people feel about the possibility of delisting a marine mammal and various organizations appeared to have encouraged members to submit comments, Gorman said.
“But, obviously, we have to make the call based on science, not people’s passionate feelings.”
The petition for delisting the whales, which sparked the NOAA review, came from two farmers in California’s Central Valley, working with the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability and Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm.
The group is arguing that the classification of southern residents as a separate population is based on junk science.
NOAA Fisheries concluded the petition presented new evidence, which triggered a status review.
A decision will be made by August whether to go ahead with a proposal to delist the whales, Gorman said. At that time, the petition will either die or progress toward a final decision, which would be made by August 2014.
The preferred diet of the approximately 85 resident killer whales, which spend much of their time in Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound, is chinook salmon.
That preference for salmon is the link to the California farmers — water used for irrigation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river deltas is rationed to ensure salmon survival.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network said many of the group’s members submitted comments and are now hoping the petition will be dropped.
“It’s frivolous and unfounded,” Garrett said. “I think we will win the day.”
It is difficult to know why the farmers decided to try to delist the whales, he said.
“Even if they won, they wouldn’t get what they wanted, which is more water for farms in southern California, because the salmon are still endangered. The whales are downstream from the real issue, which is the salmon.”
In Canada, southern resident killer whales were listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in 2001 and were brought under the Species at Risk Act in 2003.
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