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NFWF Announces $590,000 in Grants for Killer Whale Research and Conservation

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced the first round of grants from its recently launched Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program (KWRCP). The $590,000 in awards announced today will fund five grants and will be matched by more than $848,000 in grantee contributions, for a total conservation impact of more than $1.4 million. The KWRCP funds projects to help study and protect killer whales in the wild, with a particular focus on the Southern Resident killer whale population found off the coast of Washington.

The successful first round of grants was made possible through funding from SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The grants we announce today will fund critical research needed to improve the health of the Southern Resident killer whale population," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. "Working closely with our partners, including SeaWorld, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, we were able to launch this new competitive grant program in less than a year, which was essential to getting this much-needed funding to our grantees as quickly as possible."

Killer whales play a key role in the ecological and cultural fabric of the Pacific Northwest. Researchers have been increasingly concerned about the health of Resident populations of killer whales in this region following a decline in the 1990s due to limited prey availability, noise and pollution levels. The KWRCP was launched in early 2015 to support efforts to advance the knowledge and conservation of killer whales, with a primary focus on three strategies to aid in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS): increasing prey availability; improving habitat quality; and strengthening management through crucial research.

"SeaWorld researchers and other scientists have for many decades studied killer whales in our care, discovering things about killer whales that would be impossible to learn in the wild," said Joel Manby, President and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "By increasing support to field researchers, we can further our understanding and work together to help this important species recover. The studies funded by these grants have important implications, both for wild whales and the habitats in which they live, particularly the endangered Southern Resident whales."

Grants awarded in this first slate of projects will fill critical gaps in scientists' understanding of key salmon runs that make up the primary source of food for the Southern Resident population. Funded research projects will answer key questions to improve management of salmon runs and evaluate the impacts that reduced availability of prey has had on the health and reproduction of the Southern Resident DPS. Additional investments will examine the impacts of vessel sound and toxins on the population, in order to assist scientists in evaluating the greatest limiting factors to population recovery.

"Marine mammals like the killer whale have an intimate connection with freshwater species and habitat on land. The health of killer whale populations is linked to that of the salmon and steelhead populations that often serve as their food source. Conversely, the health of salmon and steelhead populations is dependent of the health of the marine ecosystem," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "Research and conservation work funded by the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program will help us better understand and manage these inter-related dynamics, along with our federal partners at NOAA."

"This NFWF grants program is terrific news for all of the groups, agencies, experts, and individuals working together to stabilize populations of this iconic species in the wild. The emphasis on the Southern Resident Killer whales, one of our 'Species in the Spotlight' this year, is especially welcome," said Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

2015 Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program Grants

Increase Prey Availability

  • Portfolio Effects in Historic Chinook Hatchery Practices on Prey Availability for Southern Resident Killer Whales, NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center
  • Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, Long Live the Kings

Improve Habitat Quality:

  • Understanding Noise Exposure, Sound Use and Subsurface Behavior of Southern Resident Killer Whales, NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Strengthen Management through Applied Research

  • Developing a Killer Whale Standardized Health Assessment Protocol and Health Index (WA), Regents of the University of California-Davis
  • Research on the Impacts of Seasonal Prey Availability and Contaminants on Body Condition of Killer Whales (BC, WA), Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

For more detailed information about the five grants announced today, please click here, and to learn more about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's work on killer whales, visit nfwf.org/killerwhales.

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores our nation's wildlife and habitats. Chartered by Congress in 1984, NFWF directs public conservation dollars to the most pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private contributions. NFWF works with government, nonprofit and corporate partners to find solutions for the most intractable conservation challenges. Over the last three decades, NFWF has funded more than 4,000 organizations and committed more than $2.9 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at nfwf.org.

About SeaWorld

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., supports two initiatives at the Foundation that focus on coastal and marine resources, the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program and the Ocean Health Initiative. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program funds efforts to advance the knowledge and conservation of killer whales with a primary focus on activities that aid in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Northern Pacific Resident population. The Ocean Health Initiative works through other Foundation programs to support a portfolio of projects that bolster the health of threatened marine and coastal species and habitats while engaging communities in these conservation efforts. For more information, visit SeaWorldCares.com

About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube.

About NOAA

In 1994, Congress formalized the partnership between NFWF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since that time, NFWF has rapidly expanded its focus on the restoration and enhancement of marine and coastal habitats. Nearly half of NFWF's investments support conservation activities benefiting imperiled marine and coastal species and the critical ecosystems in which they reside. In total, NFWF has leveraged more than $76.2 million in NOAA funding to produce more than $207.5 million for on-the-ground and in-the-water conservation.

CONTACT: Rob Blumenthal, 202-857-0166, rob.blumenthal@nfwf.org

Source:National Fish and Wildlife Foundation