The orcas commonly spotted in the waters of Puget Sound during the summer lead a much more mysterious life in the winter time.
But a team of researchers has just returned from a three-week cruise following orcas along the coast of the Northwest and British Columbia. And they brought back some clues to help demystify the orcas' winter activities.
The researchers satellite-tagged two of the adult orcas to better monitor their movements. They also spotted a new calf.
By gathering fecal samples the scientists learned more about what the orcas are eating at this time of year. The answer: mainly salmon; there were scales in the orca poop they studied.
And they recorded orca conversations. Each pod has its own language.
Here’s L pod singing and echolocating - that’s the clicking sound - off the coast of Oregon:
Lynne Barre is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She says the cruise data will inform NOAA’s permitting decisions and mitigation actions to prevent or minimize harm to the endangered marine mammals.
“Things like fisheries management, navy activities or federal licensing for alternative renewable energy projects,” she said.
As vessel traffic in Puget Sound increases and the Navy pushes to conduct more testing in the Northwest, understanding how the whales use these waters will play a role in protecting them.