NOAA 2003-R103
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sheela McClean
1/24/03
NOAA News Releases 2003
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NOAA FISHERIES REVIEWING PETITION FOR PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND KILLER WHALES

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is reviewing a petition to designate the AT-1 killer whale group of Prince William Sound as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The agency received the petition from the National Wildlife Federation on November 13, 2002. Agency officials found the petition may have merit. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the Commerce Department.

The petition listed genetic, behavioral, ecological and management reasons for designating the AT-1 group separate from the general group of transient killer whales in the eastern North Pacific. NOAA Fisheries will conduct a status review of the Prince William Sound killer whales, including whether the AT1 group should be considered a separate stock.

“Regardless of the outcome of the population status review, we are–and have been–concerned about this group of killer whales,” said Ron Berg, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska.

The AT1 group are currently considered part of a larger population of 346 transient killer whales in the eastern North Pacific. Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords are also home to about 362 resident killer whales. Resident and transient killer whales have different eating habits, calls and genetics. The AT-1 group once numbered 22 animals, but now contains only nine whales, including four females. The AT-1 whales have been observed feeding on harbor seals and porpoises in Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords in Alaska. No new calves have been sighted since 1984.

The petitioners suggested that a decrease in available prey, the long term chronic effects of contaminants from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and long-term effects of vessel disturbance are possible factors in the decline of the AT-1 group.

Following the status review of the AT-1 group, the agency will publish its findings. If NOAA Fisheries finds that the stock is separate and depleted, the agency will consider development of a conservation plan for what would be the newly designated AT-1 stock of killer whales.

NOAA Fisheries is asking for comments and information about this petition and the status of AT-1 killer whales. The agency is particularly interested in hearing about the identification of AT-1 killer whales as a population stock; the historical or current abundance of this group; factors that may be affecting the group; and conservation measures that may promote their recovery. Comments may be sent to : Assistant Administrator for Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 709 W. 9th St, Juneau, AK 99802-1668. Comments will not be accepted if submitted via e-mail or the Internet; however, comments may be sent via fax to (907) 586-7012.

The Federal Register notice and other information can be found on the agency website at: http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/killerwhales/petition.htm.
People may also contact Kaja Brix at (907) 586-7235 or Tom Eagle at (301) 713-2322 Ext. 105 for further information.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, please visit our website at www.fakr.noaa.gov

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:

NOAA:

http://www.noaa.gov

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov