Feds agree to expand habitat protections for Northwest orcas

FILE - This Sept. 2015 photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an adult female orca, identified as J-16, as she's about to surface with her youngest calf, born earlier in the year 2015, near the San Juan Islands in Washington state's Puget Sound. Researchers say there's a new calf, not pictured, among the population of critically endangered killer whales that live in the waters between Washington state and Canada. Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, told The Seattle Times that staff first saw the calf Friday, Jan., 11, 2019, at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. He said the youngster looks healthy, but survival rates for baby orcas are only about 50 percent. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — The federal government says that by October it will propose expanded habitat protections off Washington, Oregon and California for Pacific Northwest orcas.

The announcement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in 2018 to make officials move more quickly to protect the endangered orcas.

The whales spend their summers in the waters between Washington state and Canada, but about two-thirds of the year they migrate and forage for salmon off the West Coast. The conservation group said the National Marine Fisheries Service had been dragging its feet in designating "critical habitat" for the whales in those foraging and migration areas.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must ensure that activities they pay for, permit or carry out do not harm such habitat.

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