Feds propose major habitat protections for killer whales

FILE - This September 2015, photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an aerial view of adult female Southern Resident killer whale (J16) swimming with her calf (J50). Habitat protections for the endangered population of orcas would be greatly expanded under a proposal to be advanced by NOAA. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File)

U.S. protections for the waters that a group of endangered orcas call home could soon expand beyond the Seattle area to encompass much of the West Coast

SEATTLE — U.S. protections for the waters that a group of endangered orcas call home could soon expand beyond the Seattle area to encompass much of the West Coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a proposal Wednesday to increase the critical habitat designation for southern resident killer whales by more than sevenfold under the Endangered Species Act.

Just 73 orcas remain in the Pacific Northwest population, the lowest number in more than three decades.

The latest proposal calls for an additional 15,626 square miles (40,471 square kilometers) of federally protected habitat that would run from the border with Canada, down south to Point Sur, California.

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