Federal scientists have decided Puget Sound killer whales will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The decision Friday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration follows a yearlong review of a petition.
The petition was brought by the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of California farmers who faced water restrictions to protect salmon that the orcas eat. They argued the Puget Sound orcas were part of a north Pacific population and didn't qualify for the 2005 endangered species listing.
A NOAA spokesman in Seattle, Brian Gorman, says the scientific review determined the Puget Sound orcas are distinct from other killer whales and still need protection. There are about 85 orcas in three pods, which also spend much of the year in the Pacific.