Killer whales threatened by salmon shortage

Wednesday » October 8
» 2008

Lack food may be reason for changes in behaviour

Judith Lavoie
Times Colonist

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

CREDIT: Times Colonist file photo from 2005
Scientists are worried that some killer whales may be starving.
Killer whales in waters off southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound are losing blubber and developing strange behaviour patterns because of a shortage of salmon, whale experts say.
Some endangered southern resident killer whales are developing “peanut heads,” showing they are not getting enough food, said Howard Garrett of Washington-based Orca Network.
“They are looking sick. There is usually a thick layer of blubber just behind the skull, and that seems to be the first place to be drawn from when they need to draw down blubber,” he said. “In some of them, there’s a dip right behind the blow-hole and, when you see that, you know the whale has been hungry.”
The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor is having difficulty finalizing numbers for the three resident pods this year because the whales are so spread out.
Researchers have tentatively set the number of southern residents at about 87.
Unusual liaisons are happening as the whales search for elusive chinook salmon, Garrett said.
“A small group from L Pod have been traveling with J Pod all summer long, and twice J Pod has split into two completely separate groups, out of acoustic range from each other,” he said. “It’s an indication that they are searching high and low and in every nook and cranny for fish.”
Today, environmental groups and Lance Barrett-Lennard, co-chairman of the federal government’s Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team, are holding a news conference in Vancouver. They will “announce an explosive new strategy to challenge the federal government’s failure to protect the endangered southern resident killer whales and threatened northern resident killer whales,” says a news release from the environmental group Ecojustice.
The whale recovery team worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to produce a killer whale recovery strategy, which was finalized earlier this year.
“There are ongoing scientific concerns about conservation of the species, particularly in light of the fact that killer whales are not looking good this year,” Barrett-Lennard said.
The strategy’s objectives are to ensure the whales have an adequate and accessible food supply, that chemical and biological pollutants and disturbance from human activities do not prevent recovery and that critical habitat is protected.
John Ford, marine mammal scientist at DFO’s Pacific Biological Station, is an expert on the eating habits of resident killer whales. Ford wrote last year in a University of British Columbia paper, that “resident killer whales may be dependent on chinook salmon, and the abundance of this prey species may have a direct effect on their survival.”
Diane Lake of DFO communications said scientists will not grant interviews during the election campaign.
In the U.S., Garrett has firm ideas on what should be done to save the orcas.
“There is already a lot of effort to restore salmon on the U.S. side, and we need to tie orca recovery to salmon recovery every step of the way,” he said.
That means tighter fishing restrictions, buffer zones around salmon streams and the removal of dams on the Elwha River and the Snake River in Washington state, Garrett said.
jlavoie@tc.canwest.com
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/story.html?id=82ffec21-a2ef-488a-b16b-385da014c34f


One Response to “Killer whales threatened by salmon shortage”

  1. Killer Whales are amazing creatures..just had to share this beautiful pic:

    http://www.redbubble.com/people/andrewpatsalou/art/4189923-1-killer-whales

    gotta love killer whales…hope to see some real ones soon on a whale watching trip..

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