KCET, Jan. 21, 2014: With just 81 individuals left, a population of killer whales (a.k.a. orcas) local to the West Coast has been listed as a federally Endangered species since 2005. Now, new data on the beleaguered whales’ habits is prompting a wildlife protection group to ask for better protection of orca habitat along more than half the U.S. Pacific coast — including more than a third of the California coast. [...] Southern Resident orcas will eat chum and coho salmon, as well as herring and rockfish, but they strongly prefer the larger Chinook salmon, which may make up as much as four fifths of their diet. And that means that protecting California salmon and their offshore habitat may well be crucial to the health of two of the Southern Resident orca’s three pods, especially in a drought year that may be devastating to California’s Chinook population. Southern Resident orcas may already be feeling the effects of drought, as well as other factors depleting fish stocks off the Pacific coast. Only two calves were born to the population in 2012, and 2013′s sole new calf died before the year was out.
Bay Nature, Jan. 13, 2014: One final way of learning about orcas is to study the rare cases in which whales have died and washed ashore. Perhaps it was fitting, then, that researchers here were able to learn about the rarest of the ecotypes through this rarest of study methods. In November 2011 [...] a local beach walker discovered a dead whale that had washed ashore on a remote beach at Point Reyes. [...] Graeme Ellis at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada wrote back identifying the whale as a young male called o319. The “O” stands for offshore, by far the rarest and least-understood of the three Pacific orca ecotypes and something extremely remarkable to find washed up on the beach in Point Reyes — or anywhere. [...] The necropsy, begun in the field and completed later in the lab, revealed hemorrhaging in the head, a broken rib, blood-stained vertebrae, and blood in the pleural cavity, indicating that the orca had died from trauma [...]
See also: Experts: "Really an off year" -- Pelicans starving in Pacific Northwest since 2011, killing baby birds for food -- Breeding success "really poor" since 2011 -- "I believe pelicans are responding to large scale changes" -- "Sardine crash" persists in Pacific since decline in 2011
Published: January 22nd, 2014 at 5:41 pm ET