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orcas

The call is going out again to the operators and pilots of big ships to slow down in the shared border waters between Washington and British Columbia. The idea is to reduce underwater noise that could bother endangered killer whales.

Orcas in the Puget Sound.
Flickr Photo/tifotter (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/7SJy6t

In honor of Orca Awareness Month in Washington state, here are three facts about orcas we didn't know before, courtesy of a talk by Prof. Jason Colby of the University of Victoria. 

Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

An endangered killer whale has gone missing and is presumed dead, but it's not the only orca in trouble in Washington waters.

Eight local orcas have died in just the past two years. 


L122, one of the newest members of the Southern Resident Community of orcas, spotted Sept. 7 near Sooke, British Columbia.
Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research

Bill Radke talks with our panel about the declining number of orcas in Puget Sound and if we should stop whale watching. We also look at the New York Times investigation into pregnancy discrimination, and why the World Health Organization has added "gaming disorder" to its disease classifications.

A file photo of a member of Puget Sound's Swinomish tribe participating in a ceremonial salmon blessing. Northwest tribes hold vigils along the Columbia River to pray for the return of salmon.
KCTS9 Photo/Katie Campbell

Tribal leaders on both sides of the border said Canada's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline would not weaken their opposition to the pipeline's planned expansion.

The project would triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta tar sands through British Columbia and increase oil tanker traffic through Puget Sound.

Proposed 'marine park' at Seattle Center, 1966
Flickr Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/241yeWL

Fifty years ago, Seattle was trying to decide what do with its center attraction in the wake of the World’s Fair.

One man came forward with the idea of privately-funded plan marine park. Think SeaWorld at the heart of Seattle – complete with a captive orca to perform shows.

Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium orca show, 2006.
Wikipedia Photo/Marc Averette (CC BY 3.0)/https://bit.ly/2Iv7sS3

At Penn Cove, on the north end of Whidbey Island, gulls and other birds fly overhead, and a muddy beach leads down to the water.

It’s quiet today, but, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was the place whale catchers came to capture orcas.


Researchers at Oregon State University have worked out a way to detect and identify whales long after they move on — just by sampling the water.

When whales swim they leave behind a plume of genetic material in the environment: skin, poop and bodily fluids. If you know what to look for, you can use that DNA to figure out what kind of whale went by.

Wikimedia

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Washington state officials have proposed a new tack to save the Pacific Northwest's critically endangered orca population. Their idea is to boost salmon hatchery production by 10 to 20 million more fish per year to provide more food for the iconic killer whales.

In Olympia, state lawmakers are considering stronger protections for the critically endangered population of resident killer whales.

Nathan Cultee dumps 16 farm-raised Atlantic salmon into a container on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at Home Port Seafood in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Bill Radke talks to Lynda Mapes, The Seattle Times environment reporter, about Washington's disappearing salmon population and what it says about the health of our coast and Puget Sound.  

Orca researchers and conservationists are urging more steps to protect Puget Sound's endangered southern resident killer whales. The push comes in the wake of the death of a 2-year-old male orca known as J52.

The death, which researchers say was caused by malnutrition, brought the population to a 30-year low.

A majority of large ship operators are cooperating with a request to temporarily slow down in the shared border waters between Victoria and San Juan Island. The Port of Vancouver in British Columbia is running an experiment there to reduce underwater noise that bothers whales.

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.

Study: Orcas Lose Two-Thirds Of Their Pregnancies

Jun 29, 2017

Two-thirds of all detectable orca pregnancies have ended in miscarriages over the past seven years, a new study shows.

To figure out if orcas were pregnant, the researchers trained dogs to find orca scat and then tested the scat’s hormone levels. What they found was sobering.

“Of those that we confirmed were pregnant, 31 percent of the pregnancies are successful. So 69 percent were lost,” said Sam Wasser, a University of Washington professor and study author.

If you think trying to carry on a conversation in a noisy restaurant or bar is difficult, imagine how whales in the noisy waters of the Salish Sea feel.

New research shows some of the orca populations that visit the Salish Sea are booming while the orcas who spend most of their time there are suffering. It comes down to what the different orcas eat.

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 5, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

Tilikum, possibly the most famous orca in the world, has died, according to SeaWorld Orlando.

He was the subject of the influential documentary Blackfish, and outcry over his story prompted SeaWorld to stop breeding orcas in captivity.

People gathered to listen to the announcement about the latest orca death brought signs calling for the breaching of the Snake River dams.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

It’s been a bad year for the southern orca community. Seattle’s Center for Whale Research says a second adult female has died. That brings the recent death toll to three.

Bill Radke sits down with Orca Network co-founder and activist Howard Garrett to talk about the newest developments in the controversy over Lolita the Orca. The whale has been in captivity for over 40 years, and recently unsealed documents reveal many alarming details about her conditions. 

Boats have to stay 200 yards away from the Northwest’s endangered resident killer whales. But what if one of those boaters launches an aerial drone to take better pictures from closer up?

It's not a theoretical question. And the answer is not as clear as law enforcement would like.

A new environmental nonprofit is scouting the Pacific Northwest coast for a suitable cove or bay to establish a refuge for retired captive orca and beluga whales.

The board and staff of the new outfit, called The Whale Sanctuary Project, includes a number of people who helped return Keiko, the star of the Free Willy movie, to Icelandic waters from Newport, Oregon.

An orca pod travels past the Seattle skyline. A new study shows that pods are most likely led by older females.
Courtesy of NOAA/Candice Emmons

Bill Radke speaks with Joe Gaydos, chief scientist for the University of California Davis Wildlife on Orcas Island, about the creation of individual health care records for all the resident orcas in Puget Sound. 

Puget Sound’s Dark Role In Orca Captures

Mar 17, 2016
Springer, the one-ton baby orca displaced from her pod, chased Washington ferries until she was caught and reconnected with her family.
AP Photo/Cheryl Hatch

SeaWorld says it will end its killer whale breeding program and will stop making the mammals perform tricks for stadium crowds. It’s a historic about-face from the days when SeaWorld hired people to capture wild killer whales in Puget Sound. 

Photo by Frank Shaw, and used with permission by Paul Dorpat.

In 1965, a local businessman towed a giant orca into Elliott Bay. Namu the Killer Whale became a huge hit with the public, inspiring local musicians and even a movie.

When the new baby orca L120 was spotted in just off of San Juan Island in Puget Sound, Ken Balcomb passed out cigars to celebrate.

But the long-time killer whale researcher knew that the southern resident orca pods needed a lot more than one new member. That was back in September 2014. Their numbers were down to 78, the smallest since 1985. L120 was the first baby orca born in two years.

Baby orca J54 swims with its mom, J28, in the waters off San Juan Island this month.
Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research

When officials counted the orcas in Puget Sound earlier this year, they noted that several of them appeared to be pregnant.

They were right. Yet another baby orca has been spotted – the eighth born to the pods that make up the southern resident orcas.

L123 is seen in Haro Strait. Capt. Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales Whale Watching took the photo for the Center for Whale Research.
Courtesy Mark Malleson/Pacific Whale Watch Association

Welcome, L123: You're the newest baby born to the endangered orcas in the Salish Sea.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association released photos of you and your mother, L103, also known as Lapis, swimming in Haro Strait on Saturday.

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