VANCOUVER - Conservation groups have launched legal action aimed at protecting endangered southern resident killer whales.

The groups say the federal government failed to recommend an emergency order to protect the whales under the Species at Risk Act and they want a Federal Court to review that decision.

Margot Venton, a lawyer and nature program director at Ecojustice, says the whales need a quieter ocean with more salmon to eat, and they don't have that right now.

She says the whales' situation is not improving, and in these dire circumstances the groups are left with no choice but to go to court to force the federal government to act.

There are just 75 southern residents remaining and their critical situation has been highlighted in the recent attempt by experts to save the life of a young, emaciated killer whale within the pod.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in a news release issued before the groups announced legal action that the government is dedicated to the protection and recovery of these whales.