The distressing situation of critically endangered killer whales in the Pacific Northwest

A series of heartbreaking events in recent weeks has brought greater attention to a herd of killer whales that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The bereaved mother, known as Tahlequah, has been holding on to her baby's body for two weeks (in the July 24 image)

A series of heartbreaking events in recent weeks has brought greater attention to a herd of killer whales that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

It began on July 24, when a 20-year-old whale mother was discovered carrying the body of her dead calf, which had been born less than an hour before.

The bereaved mother, known as J35 or Tahlequah, has clung to the baby ever since, even receiving help from her fellow group members to keep her body afloat.

Two weeks have passed and Tahlequah has not left, leaving many worried about their physical and mental well-being.

And, in that same group, scientists are now running to the aid of a 3-year-old calf called J50 that looks emaciated and can have a life-threatening infection.

The circumstances are extreme, but they are only fragments of the growing problems facing the population of killer whales in the region.

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A series of heartbreaking events in recent weeks has brought greater attention to a herd of killer whales that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The bereaved mother, known as Tahlequah, has been holding on to her baby's body for two weeks (in the July 24 image)

A series of heartbreaking events in recent weeks has brought greater attention to a herd of killer whales that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The bereaved mother, known as Tahlequah, has been holding on to her baby's body for two weeks (in the July 24 image)

WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREATS FOR THESE WHALE KILLERS?

According to NOAA, southern resident killer whales face three main threats:

  • The lack of prey
  • Boat traffic and noise
  • Chemical contaminants

Chinook salmon is the most nutrient-rich prey available for southern orca residents.

But, the salmon population has plummeted in recent years, spelling out a disaster for the whales that depend on them.

The noise and overpopulation of boat traffic are considered one of the main threats to its existence, along with modern pollution and pollutants that remain in the water because of chemicals that were banned decades ago.

According to NOAA, the main worrisome contaminants are: PCB (found in plastics, paints, rubber, electrical equipment), DDT (found in pesticides) and PBDE (fire retardant chemicals found, for example, in mattresses) , televisions, toasters). )

Southern resident orcas, as the species is known, are one of the eight NOAA species targeted, or those considered "most at risk of extinction in the near future."

The population now stands at only 75, which according to researchers is the lowest figure in three decades, composed of three different pods: the J-pod, the K-pod and the L-pod.

The three groups have had problems increasing their numbers in recent years, according to data from the Whale Research Center.

The calf that died at the end of July was the first to have been born in more than three years.

According to NOAA, there are three main factors that threaten their survival: lack of prey, traffic and ship noise and chemical pollutants.

These whales can be found in the waters of Canada and the northwest of the United States, where the population of chinook salmon has collapsed.

And, since fish are the main prey of whales, whales are also suffering.

In addition to starvation, food shortages have a number of consequences for the species that fight.

On the one hand, scientists have discovered that it may be related to the surprisingly high rates of spontaneous abortion observed in this population.

Between 2007 and 2014, researchers found that up to two-thirds of pregnancies failed, possibly due to tensions caused by lack of food.

In the photograph, the southern resident orca J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew, B.C. J50 is the sick whale that a team of experts hopes to save by giving him antibiotics or feeding his live salmon at sea.

In the photograph, the southern resident orca J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew, B.C. J50 is the sick whale that a team of experts hopes to save by giving him antibiotics or feeding his live salmon at sea.

In the photograph, the southern resident orca J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew, B.C. J50 is the sick whale that a team of experts hopes to save by giving him antibiotics or feeding his live salmon at sea.

Chinook salmon is the most nutrient-rich prey available for southern orca residents.

In the study published last year, researchers at the University of Washington analyzed the hormone levels of 348 scat samples.

This allowed them to differentiate between the stress caused by external responses, such as boat traffic, and the result of poor nutrition.

And, they found that food shortages were an important player.

"Based on our analysis of whale health and pregnancy during this seven-year period, we believe that a low abundance of salmon is the main factor for the low reproductive success of Southern resident orcas," lead author Sam Wasser, professor of biology at the University of Washington. and director of the Center for Conservation Biology said at that time.

"During years of low abundance of salmon, we see hormonal signals that nutritional stress is being established and more pregnancies fail, and this trend has become increasingly common in recent years."

WHY DO SCIENTISTS THINK THAT WHALES AND DOLPHINS CRY?

Whales and dolphins have been seen & # 39; bearing & # 39; or taking care of their dead young several times.

These creatures may be in mourning or have not accepted or acknowledged that the offspring or partner have died.

Scientists still do not know if aquatic mammals really recognize death and are looking to do more research on this subject.

In 2016, scientists found evidence that whales and dolphins perform "vigils" for their dead.

They analyzed several cases in which mammals clung to the bodies of dead compatriots and watched over a dead companion.

At that time, they said that the most likely explanation was mourning.

The study compiled observations of 14 events.

They discovered that mothers used to take their dead youngsters over the water, often flanked by friends.

In many cases, the dead pups broke down, indicating that they had been kept for a long time.

Lack of food may even be causing pods to behave in ways that are detrimental to their own survival, such as inbreeding.

As of last spring, only 26 of the 76 whales were breeding, and one study identified at least four whales that were "highly inbred."

It is not clear what exactly is causing them to breed within their own families, but experts say it may arise because families stay together to help each other hunt.

"We found an indication of a relationship that shows that the less diverse it is, the less likely it is to live long," lead author Michael Ford, a conservation biologist at NOAA's Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Center in Seattle, said in April. .

"We still do not know how worrisome it is, but it is something we want to analyze more carefully, it is possible that some of the problems that this population has may be due to inbreeding."

Scientists also identified worrisome bacteria in the exhaled breath from orca orifices that suggest they may be at risk for infections similar to diseases that affect humans and terrestrial animals.

The population now stands at only 75, which according to researchers is the lowest figure in three decades, composed of three different pods: the J-pod, the K-pod and the L-pod. All three have had problems increasing their numbers, according to data from the Whale Research Center.

The population now stands at only 75, which according to researchers is the lowest figure in three decades, composed of three different pods: the J-pod, the K-pod and the L-pod. All three have had problems increasing their numbers, according to data from the Whale Research Center.

The population now stands at only 75, which according to researchers is the lowest figure in three decades, composed of three different pods: the J-pod, the K-pod and the L-pod. All three have had problems increasing their numbers, according to data from the Whale Research Center.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia identified bacteria and fungi such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Penicillium and Phoma.

"We are not sure if these microbes occur naturally in the marine environment or if they can be of terrestrial origin," explained lead author Stephen Raverty, assistant professor of the UBC Institute of Oceans and Fisheries.

"These animals are long-range and, as they migrate along the coast, they are exposed to agricultural runoff and urban discharges that can introduce a variety of microbes into the water."

And, in addition to environmental factors, whales face growing threats from human activity.

The noise and overcrowding caused by maritime traffic are considered one of the main threats to its existence, along with modern pollution and pollutants that remain in the water because of chemicals that were banned decades ago.

WHAT IS THE WHALE OF THE MURDERER RESIDENT OF THE SOUTH AND WHY IS IT A LOW THREAT?

The southern resident killer whale is one of the fisheries species of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This initiative is a concerted effort by the agency to highlight and save the marine species at greatest risk.

The southern resident in danger of extinction is an icon of the Pacific Northwest but it is also among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.

The population census at the end of 2016 accounted for only 78 resident orcas from the south, compared to 98 in 1995.

In 2003, NOAA Fisheries began a research and conservation program and southern residents were included in the list of endangered species in 2005. A recovery plan was completed in 2008.

The population continues to struggle and has declined more than 10 percent since 2005.

During the spring, summer and fall, the range of southern orca residents includes the inland waterways of Washington State and waters bordering the United States and Canada.

They have been located as far south as central California during the winter months and as far north as southeast Alaska.

The noise and overcrowding caused by boat traffic, as well as the limited supply of their favorite foods – salmon – pose serious threats to this endangered population.

Previous research has shown that some of the most important threats faced by whales, such as limiting prey and high levels of contaminants, can not be addressed without a long-term commitment.

The recovery of threatened salmon, for example, is a monumental task in itself and is expected to take many years.

According to NOAA, the main pollutants that threaten these whales are: PCB (found in plastics, paints, rubber, electrical equipment), DDT (found in pesticides) and PBDE (fire retardant chemicals found, example, in mattresses, televisions, toasters).

Conservationists are working hard to try to protect the shrinking population of the US waters. UU And Canada.

NOAA has outlined a 5-year action plan to help with its recovery, and local governments have also stepped up their efforts.

But, saving the residents of the south will require a lot of work, and time is running out.

"We're not too late," said Barry Thom, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Regional Administrator earlier this year.

"From a biological perspective, there are still enough breeding animals, but we need to act soon."

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