August 3, 2012

Setting the killer whale record straight

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

We’ve had quite a lot of press in connection with our delisting petition, filed yesterday, for the killer whale:  Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Times, Capital Press, NPR, McClatchey Newspapers, among others.  (I was somewhat amused when the Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release criticizing the petition and labelling us a “fringe group.”  One wonders what type of property rights group CBD would consider non-fringe.)  The critiques are based on the notions that delisting of the whale will mean its demise, will injure the Pacific Northwest’s economy, is motivated by a myopic preference for California big ag over small time fishermen.  As ole Tommy Aquinas would say, Sed contra.  Respondeo dicendum:

1.  The population of whale currently protected amounts to less than 1% of the world’s 50,000-strong population.  Nothing that might ever happen to this sub-sub-sub-population will have any measurable impact on the whale’s survival as a species.

2.  Moreover, delisting the whale does not mean open season.  Important and tough protections for the whale will continue to remain in place under federal and state law.  In short, even with delisting, it will still be illegally to harm,  injure, or kill orca whales.

3.  Our delisting petition is not anti-whale, but it certainly is pro-farmer and pro-freedom.  Does it make any sense to impose significant water cutbacks on the most fruitful agricultural region in the world when (a) those cutbacks provide little or no direct benefit to the whale, (b) are illegal, and (c) are based on junk science?

4.  Our petition is about bringing rigor and integrity to conservation science.  Don’t forget that the whale’s listing is based on the government’s seat-of-the-pants determination in 2005 that there suddenly existed an unnamed and theretofore unknown subspecies of killer whale in the North Pacific.  On that faulty basis, the government listed the whale population at issue.  No independent scientific body has ever formally determined that the orca whale has any subspecies.  We can only surmise that the Service’s serendipitous discovery of such a subpecies was a mere expedient to allow this listing.

5.  Let’s also focus on the big picture.  If we want to conserve species, what’s the most efficient way of doing so given limited time and money?  Should one focus on protecting sub-sub-sub populations of a larger species that is doing just fine, or instead on entire species and subspecies that face imminent destruction?  The answer is clear.

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