NewsResearchers spot baby whale that offers hope for endangered...

Researchers spot baby whale that offers hope for endangered species

Created: 07/28/2022, 09:24 am

Orca-Mutter und ihr Kalb
After several years without a single surviving baby orca, one more has been sighted in the waters of the Salish Sea. © Tamara Kelley/Orca Conservancy

Only 74 specimens of the Salish Sea Orca still swim through Canadian waters. A baby whale has been sighted for the first time in years.

Washington (Canada) – It swims very close to its mom, its dorsal fin can be seen again and again on the water surface: K-45 was named the orca baby, which has now been sighted in the inland waters along the states of Washington and British Columbia. The birth of the baby whale is a sensation as a baby killer whale swims in the waters of the Salish Sea for the first time since 2011. Salish sea orcas, also known as southern resident killer whales, are among Canada’s most endangered marine mammals. Only 74 copies are left.

After several years without a single surviving baby orca, the new calf gives researchers hope that the endangered species may eventually recover. However, one calf alone is not enough to completely allay the concerns of researchers and conservationists.

Salish Sea Orcas Critically Endangered – Only 74 Animals Left

The number of resident killer whales in Canadian waters is steadily declining. After animal rights activists mourned the death of a calf born in 2013, another calf was born in 2019. Since then, however, no further young animal has been sighted – until now. With the orca baby K-45, the researchers hope that the animals are doing better again.

Der Kopf eines Orcas ragt aus dem Wasser
A killer whale in Lanzarote: Orcas can grow up to nine meters long. © dpa

As the scientists have found through observation over the past few years, health indicators such as stress hormone levels and body weight across the orca population suggest that successful births are becoming rarer. “We’ve known for decades that these females could give birth every three years, and that’s just not the case now,” says Deborah Giles, science and research director of Washington-based group Wild Orca, according to .

In 2017, the research team found that 69 percent of female whale pregnancies are not carried to term in the last few years. The reasons: The animals are chronically stressed and malnourished. The killer whale population in Canadian waters has declined from 89 in 2005 to 74 today. The joy of the baby orca is all the greater. “The new calf is so wonderful,” says the scientist. Researchers recently discovered a shark in the Mediterranean Sea that was thought to be long extinct in the waters.

Noise, environmental pollution, possible collisions with boats and a lack of prey threaten orcas

Nevertheless, the low whale population worries scientists. Noise, environmental pollution, potential boat collisions and a lack of prey continue to threaten the orca population. The main source of food for whales is king salmon. However, it is also threatened with extinction. Overfishing, rising water temperatures, dam obstructions and habitat destruction are causing salmon numbers to steadily decline.

Although the orcas also feed on other fish species, such as the rainbow trout or the sockeye salmon, the aforementioned king salmon has always made up the main part of their diet. The killer whales have trouble finding enough prey. Any effort to protect the endangered orca includes protecting the endangered Chinook Salmon. An imported fish is now threatening native species in Lake Constance.

To protect the whales, the state of Washington has now passed a law after whale watching boats are only allowed to approach the animals half a nautical mile. A good first step in protecting whales, but says Deborah Giles it doesn’t go far enough. “Now we need to look at strategies that focus on fisheries management,” she says.

What many overlook is that conservation efforts are about more than just preserving the Salish Sea orcas. Animals are at the top of the food chain. When they go extinct, a rat’s tail is trailed behind. “This means that the entire underlying ecosystem is failing, which ultimately also affects the human population,” the researcher explains. Not only in Canada, but also in Baden-Württemberg, more and more animals are reclaiming their habitat. This also applies to a predator believed to be extinct: after 94 years, otters have been sighted on land again.

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