Updated 8:29 pm, Tuesday, March 29, 2016
The orcas that frequent Puget Sound are about to have in-depth personal health records, thanks to several research groups coming together to share data.
There’s no shortage of data on the southern resident population of killer whales. According to the experts, these 84 whales are some of the most studied marine mammals in the world.
But up until now, that data has been spread out between all the different research groups that study the whales.
Experts from the SeaDoc Society, the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, NOAA Fisheries and the National Marine Mammal Foundation gathered in Seattle on Monday and Tuesday to formulate a plan for putting all that data in one place to make tracking the health of each whale and the population as a whole that much easier.
“We do hope that by setting up a health database and using it in real time, that we can then have our finger on the pulse of these animals,” said Cynthia Smith, a veterinarian at the National Marine Mammal Foundation. “We can then predict when problems are coming along and hopefully manage those problems.”
Though still in the early stages of building the database, experts say they hope to be able to use the data like a doctor uses a human’s medical chart, from looking at individual issues to studying things that might threaten the whole population.
Researchers are still working out the details of how much data they will share, or how they will provide access, but they have already started compiling some data, and plan to meet again next year to review the database’s successes and faults, said Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with UC Davis and chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society.
Gaydos said more data will be gathered by researchers on the water this summer, and that will be incorporated into the database next year, helping paint a better picture of each whale and the whole population’s health.