The Orca Connection

orca.kitsapThe Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) of Washington State's Puget Sound amd Salish Sea are a critical part of the Northwest ecosystem and economy. They are apex predators, much-loved icons of Washington State that generate tens of millions in tourism dollars every year. They are also officially "endangered" and face severe threats to their survival. A top problem for the SRKWs is a lack of an adequate prey base - chinook salmon.

Despite having learned much about these imperiled whales in the last decade, NOAA has made precious little actual progress to meet their essential needs. The Columbia Basin — and the Snake River watershed in particular — that holds the greatest promise for restoring significant numbers of chinook in the near-term. For this reason, orca scientists and advocates increasingly support calls to remove the four costly lower Snake River dams.

No other Northwest chinook restoration proposal offers such potential. Investing in a healthy, free-flowing lower Snake River will restore salmon’s spawning access to more than 5,500 high-quality river and stream miles and produce hundreds of thousands more chinook to help southern resident killer whales survive and rebuild. Save Our wild Salmon looks forward to the opportunity to work with the people of Washington State and beyond to craft a plan that restores the Snake River and serves orcas, salmon and our communities on both sides of the Cascades.

Read the articles and posts for additional information on how these two critical Northwest species are connected.

South Whidbey Record: UW study pins orca pregnancy problems on lack of salmon

orca.w.calfEvan Thompson, Wed Jul 19th, 2017

A new study links a lack of salmon to failed pregnancies in Puget Sound’s resident orca pods.

Two-thirds of pregnancies in the Southern Resident population, from 2007 to 2014, appeared to have failed, according to a multi-year study by the University of Washington published in the journal PLOS ONE. The data connects the endangered orca population’s low reproductive success to stress from the low abundance of their most nutrient-rich food source, Chinook salmon.

Of the 35 pregnancies in the seven-year time span, only 11 were successful.

“That’s drastic,” Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Langley-based Orca Network, said. “We didn’t have that number until now.”


Oceana Blog: Endangered orcas are losing their unborn babies because they’re starving, study finds

orca.oceanaBy Allison Guy, July 12, 2017

A unique group of killer whales is miscarrying at an astronomical rate, and it’s because humans have wiped out most of their food supply.  

A recent study in the journal PLOS ONE found that as high as 69 percent of Southern Resident killer whale pregnancies end in failure. These famous whales, which frequent the Salish Sea off Seattle and Vancouver, rely on Chinook salmon for the lion’s share of their diet. Once abundant, Chinook are now rare and the whales are going hungry. The study is the first to demonstrate a clear link between orca miscarriage and poor nutrition brought on by the scarcity of their main prey.

Scientists at the University of Washington collected orca feces between 2008 and 2014 to measure hormones that regulate hunger, stress and reproduction. DNA profiling let them track the stages of pregnancy for individual orcas, and figure out when a female became pregnant and at what point she lost her baby.

Lead author Samuel Wasser said that for mammals, spontaneous abortion becomes increasingly rare as a pregnancy progresses. This is not the case for Southern Residents. “Out of the 69 percent that aborted, about a third of those were in late pregnancy,” Wasser said. “That’s a period that’s extremely costly to females. It’s a pretty serious problem.”


Idaho Statesman:  Fate of Pacific Northwest orcas tied to having enough Columbia River salmon

L116.orca.webJuly 9, 2017

By Rocky Barker and Brittany Peterson


Editor’s note: Research, tenacious advocates and $16 billion have lifted Columbia salmon from the brink of extinction. But the Northwest has yet to figure out a sustainable long-term plan to save the fish that provide spiritual sustenance for tribes, food for the table, and hundreds of millions of dollars in business and ecological benefits. This is part of a special series of reports exploring whether salmon can ultimately survive.

Just one of the three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales has shown up this year in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands northwest of Seattle, their summer home as long as researchers have followed them since 1976.

Deborah Giles, research director of the Center for Whale Research, said she isn’t concerned yet for the other two pods of fish-eating orcas. But she worries about what the next decade holds for the beloved sea mammals that share the Puget Sound with millions of people, thousands of boats and just a fraction of the salmon that historically were the orcas’ main food source.

If humans don’t make saving orcas and salmon a higher priority, she fears both will disappear. With just 80 individual orcas left, the southern resident population has the least amount of time.

Read more here.

Seattle Times: A new study nails dearth of chinook salmon as the primary cause of the endangered resident orca whale’s failure to rebound.

orca-calf-1By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times environment reporter, June 28, 2017

A team of researchers has isolated lack of food as the primary factor — bigger than vessel traffic, bigger than toxins — limiting recovery of resident killer whales.

In a paper published Thursday in PLOS ONE, a team lead by Sam Wasser, professor of biology and director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington tracked the nutritional, physiological and reproductive health of southern resident killer whales — the J, K, and L pods of orcas that frequent the Salish Sea, including the San Juans and the waters of Seattle.

The study links low reproductive success of the whales, with a total population of just 78 animals, to stress caused by low or variable abundance of their favorite prey: chinook salmon.


Associated Press: Tribes sue Coast Guard over tanker-traffic risk to orcas

By The Associated Press
April 26, 2017

orca.breachIn a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the tribes argue that the Coast Guard has failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service over the impact on killer whales of the tanker traffic it regulates.
The Tulalip and Suquamish tribes are suing the Coast Guard, alleging a failure to protect endangered orcas from the risk of oil spills associated with tanker traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday, the tribes argue that the Coast Guard has failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service over the impact of the tanker traffic it regulates on the killer whales. The tribes say the risk has increased significantly since the Canadian government approved the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline last November. That decision is expected to increase tanker traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca sevenfold.

The Coast Guard did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The tribes are represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice. They seek an order requiring the Coast Guard to avoid harm to the whales until the agency consults with the fisheries service.

The Stranger: Is Anyone Going to Save the Endangered Killer Whales in Puget Sound Before It's Too Late?  
March 22, 2017

Christopher Frizzelle   

southern resident killer whales j2 and j45 chasing salmon crIn September of 2016, the oldest living orca known to science, J2, was photographed near San Juan Island from a drone. Matriarch of the southern residents, a population of killer whales that lives in Puget Sound and is unique on the planet, J2 got her name because she was the second orca to be positively identified by scientists at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island during the first census of southern resident killer whales, conducted in 1976. The Center for Whale Research also assigns nicknames, and because J2 was so old when scientists first identified her, the nickname she got was "Granny."
"We do not know her precise age because she was born long before our study began," Ken Balcomb, the marine mammal biologist who founded the Center for Whale Research, explained. "In 1987, we estimated that she was at least 45 years old and was more likely to have been 76 years old." By 2016, she was estimated to be somewhere from 74 to 105 years old.

When she was seen near San Juan Island in September, she did not look good. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium noted J2's "thin body shape" and "relatively poor" condition. One thing that distinguishes southern residents from other kinds of killer whales is that southern residents eat only salmon. In fact, 80 percent of the southern resident diet is specifically Chinook salmon—and just like the southern residents themselves, Chinook salmon is on the endangered species list. There used to be plentiful Chinook salmon in local waters, especially where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and where the Fraser River meets the Salish Sea, but now wild Chinook is scarce.

Dr. Deborah Giles, research director for the Center for Whale Research, said Granny was in an "emaciated state" in the photos NOAA's drone took. And yet, even though Granny was herself clearly hungry, the documentation showed her hunting for food for a relative. "She was seen foraging for, pushing, basically corralling a fish toward her family member," said Dr. Giles, whose specialty is behavior. "It's incredible. The females really are the matriarchs of these family groups, and they do whatever they can [for others in their families] to the detriment of themselves. These whales cooperatively hunt. They forage and find fish and share fish with each other. That's just remarkable." The drone photography showed J2 and her relative J45 swimming side by side, a salmon swimming between them. "Ultimately, J2 captured the salmon and presented it to J45," according to NOAA.


More Articles...

  1. Jan 25, 2017 - Hawaii Magazine, Coastal Science and Societies: What Happens When an Endangered Whale Pod Loses its Wise Old Grandma?
  2. Jan 02, 2017 - Tri-Cities Herard Letter to the Editor: On orcas, ask an expert
  3. Jan 02, 2017 - KING5-TV: Vigils Held for Southern Resident Orcas
  4. Dec 22, 2016 - KOMO NEWS: Endangered southern resident orca found dead off Canadian coast
  5. Dec 13, 2016 - Oil tankers could doom Puget Sound’s orcas
  6. Nov 30, 2016 - Truthout Report: Without Major Interventions, the Orca's Days Are Numbered
  7. Oct 31, 2016 - KOMO News: 'It's a sad day:' Researchers claim Puget Sound orcas are starving and dying
  8. Oct 29, 2016 - Seattle Times: Another Puget Sound orca dies; hope dim for her calf
  9. Jun 25, 2016 - The orcas are starving
  10. Jun 06, 2016 - Orca and Salmon - An Evening of Storytelling
  11. Jun 02, 2016 - NRDC Blog: To Save Orcas, First Save Salmon
  12. Jun 02, 2016 - Defenders Magazine: Looking for a Sound Solution
  13. Jun 01, 2016 - Orca Month 2016 Calendar of Events
  14. Mar 31, 2016 - Seattle Times Guest Opinion: Hungry killer whales waiting for Columbia River salmon
  15. Jan 24, 2016 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound orca numbers rise fast after 30-year low in 2014
  16. Dec 07, 2015 - CBC: Orca baby boom: 7th calf born to endangered southern resident population
  17. Nov 16, 2015 - To save the orcas, do we need to demolish dams?
  18. Nov 06, 2015 - Huff Post: Newborn Orca 'Baby Boom' Depends Upon Our Breaching Deadbeat Dams
  19. Oct 28, 2015 - Daily Astorian Editorial: Orcas growing factor in Columbia River salmon management
  20. Oct 22, 2015 - KOMO TV: Interview with Dr. Carl Safina on the Orca-Salmon Connection
  21. Oct 22, 2015 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound’s killer whales looking good
  22. Oct 08, 2015 - Skagit Valley Herald: New alliance has big goals for salmon, orca recovery
  23. Aug 21, 2015 - Patagonia's The Cleanest Line: Save Money, Save Salmon, Save Mike: Free the Snake
  24. Jun 17, 2015 - Nat Geo Guest Blog: Breach the Snake River Dams
  25. Jun 05, 2015 - The Daily Astorian: Orcas back at Columbia River as 2015 tracking ends
  26. May 21, 2015 - WDC Guest Blog: Southern Resident Orcas and the Snake River
  27. Apr 01, 2015 - Seattle Times: Orca baby boom continues with discovery of fourth calf
  28. Mar 04, 2015 - Seattle Times: Researchers tracking killer whales took this video of a new calf from the endangered orca population
  29. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Animal roundup: Baby orca leads a parade of returning species
  30. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Baby orca in the Columbia River plume this week
  31. Feb 28, 2015 - Guest Opinion: Survival of endangered orcas in the Salish Sea depends on restoring chinook
  32. Feb 24, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Whale concerns prompt dam petition
  33. Feb 20, 2015 - Kitsap Sun: K and L pods under observation as they travel south in ocean
  34. Feb 18, 2015 - Islander Weekly: Dam removal initiative finds footing in DC
  35. Dec 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling
  36. Dec 16, 2014 - CBS News: Pregnant killer whale J-32 was starving, necropsy reveals
  37. Oct 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: 7-week-old baby orca missing, presumed dead
  38. Jul 07, 2014 - KING 5 TV: Orca expert's dire warning about Puget Sound orcas
  39. Feb 03, 2014 - New study connects Puget Sound orcas and Columbia Basin salmon
  40. Jan 15, 2014 - Orca advocates, businesses and scientists call on Governor Inslee to take action to rebuild endangered chinook salmon stocks
  41. Apr 10, 2013 - Watching Our Waterways: Orca tracking project comes to an end for now
  42. Mar 05, 2013 - Revealing new data shows killer whales' affinity for the Columbia River mouth
  43. Jun 21, 2010 - June is Orca Month - Check out the new video on salmon and orcas
  44. Dec 29, 2009 - Orcas and Salmon Roundup by Howard Garrett: Will The Present Administration Act In Behalf Of Orcas And Salmon?
  45. Dec 01, 2009 - "Commercial Fisheries, Salmon, and Orcas" - by Candace Calloway Whiting in the Seattle PI's City Brights
  46. Nov 17, 2009 - "River of Renewal"- Salmon, Dams, Orcas, and You
  47. Jun 10, 2009 - Orca Awareness Month
  48. Mar 03, 2009 - Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales
  49. May 02, 2008 - Seattle Times Guest columnists: Connect the dots to save orcas, salmon
Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.




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