A KILLER DEBATE: WHO HAS SCIENCE ON THEIR SIDE? Politics of killer whale
conservation revolves around two studies of killer whale genetics, which are
being used to either support keeping southern resident killer whales on the endangered species list, or to delist them.
Central to the debate is the definition of a species - which is no longer clear-cut. Genetics and evolutionary theory continue to change our understanding of how species differentiate. The biological species concept is changing from the static view that a species is a finite product to one where a species is considered to be in a dynamic, continually evolving state. This is challenging to interpret in the legal world where specific lines need to be drawn.
By initiating a review of the status of southern resident killer whales, the petition has forced administrators and lawyers to juggle evolving scientific concepts with seemingly opposing ‘evidence’ from recent genetics studies. It will be their interpretations of what defines a species and which genetic data best represent southern residents that will ultimately determine whether they continue to be protected under Endangered Species Act legislation in the United States.
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