GIS Mapping to Strengthen Initiative to Secure Rights for the Southern Resident Killer Whales

Threatened by pollution and vessel traffic, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are down to 74 individuals and need evolved protection so they can continue to exist, thrive and evolve. The solution is Earth Law.

New York, NY, October 03, 2018 --( Today, Earth Law Center completes and launches a GIS (Geographic Informations Systems) project to map the threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population in the Salish Sea. When a species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, as the Southern Resident Killer Whales are, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) have designated areas of critical habitat believed to be essential to the species' conservation. This habitat includes such considerations as prey, water quality and passage.

The decline of salmon populations, pollution, noise and vessel traffic have resulted in a population struggling for survival - with 74 left today. This has led environmental and community groups to seek to evolve and strengthen current protections.

“Protecting the Southern Residents means recognizing their legal rights, and our legal responsibility to respect those rights,” notes Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at Earth Law Center. “The application of ELC’s ocean rights framework to protecting the endangered population of Southern Residents provides a real-life example of how a rights-based holistic approach can strengthen existing environmental protection efforts,” continues Bender.

GIS expert Alex Palmer leads the initiative to map the various criteria that make up the critical habitat like prey (salmon), passage, and water quality. The mapping also includes threats including disturbance (vessels), habitat disturbance, and limitations of prey which will help guide the regulations necessary to advance protection of the Southern Residents. For example, the maps show locations of salmons critical habitat thus identifying areas to reduce fishing pressures, and restore spawning habitat to increase food for the Southern Residents.

"GIS helps translate data into a visual representation of the Southern Resident plight in away that is easily understood. This in turn helps shows the importance of protecting these endangered species and their habitat,” notes Al Palmer, map designer. "For example, by clicking on the pollutant map, you can see that the Port Townsend (inner) marine water body is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act due to PCB’s - one of the contaminants known to be affecting the fertility of the Southern Residents. Port Townsend community members can use this map as support to request action by their local government to address this source of contamination to the Salish Sea," adds Palmer.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data. Providing away to visualize data through many different layers, maps and data types. The complexities of protecting and restoring ecosystem health requires pervasive, complex, location-based knowledge which GIS provides. This in turn enables a holistic, spatial view of the issues and therefore the solutions.

You can join the coalition of organizations and community members working towards Legal Rights for the Southern Residents by contacting Earth Law Center at, or signing the petition at

Earth Law Center ( works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This includes advancing the inherent rights of rivers through initiatives with local partners to secure rights recognition.
Earth Law Center
Darlene Lee