California river conditions could starve killer whales

Sacramento BeeFebruary 17, 2009 

Federal wildlife officials have concluded that killer whales are threatened by California's massive network of dams and water diversions, a development that could bring a massive shift in public opinion about the state's water issues.

Though the iconic orca never ventures into freshwater, its primary food source does. Salmon species in the Central Valley are in bad shape, in large part due to the damming and diversion of their habitat on numerous rivers in California's interior. Their decline threatens to starve the dwindling southern resident population of killer whale, which numbers less than 90 animals.

As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded that California water operations may jeopardize this killer whale population. The decision is contained in a draft biological opinion being prepared on Central Valley salmon and sturgeon species in response to a court order. It has not yet been publicly released, but is due to be presented in federal court by March 2.

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