Southern Resident Killer Whales are Dying of Starvation

October 31, 2016


The West Coast’s most celebrated marine mammal is in big trouble, and its supporters are pleading for the removal of four big dams that are killing off the species’ food supply.

At a somber ceremony in Seattle on Friday, cetacean biologists announced that two more members of the Southern Resident killer whale population’s “J pod” had died of apparent starvation in October, bringing the total population of Southern Resident orcas to 80.

The reason: Southern Resident killer whales eat Chinook salmon. And since we’ve built dams on the majority of their spawning habitat, there aren’t enough Chinook salmon to go around.

At the Seattle event, held Friday at Pier 66 on that city’s waterfront,, whale advocates noted the recent losses of J-28, a breeding-age female orca born in 1993, and her calf J-54, until his death the youngest member of the J pod, born in 2015. Both whales were observed in weak, even emaciated condition in the weeks and days before their deaths. They were preceded in death by J-14, a 42-year-old female who went missing in August, and the young male J-55, who died in January only a handful of days old.


Orca deaths in Puget Sound raise alarm for Killer Whale experts

October 29, 2016

Pacific Northwest marine biologists had some grim news on Friday, as at least one more orca death was confirmed in the Puget Sound area in Washington state, further gutting a killer whale population that is edging toward historically low levels.

According to the Seattle Times, a mother whale codenamed J28 had gradually become sicker over the past several months, before vanishing from her “J-Pod” family group on or around October 19. She was about 24-years-old at the time, an age normally considered ideal for breeding, and was instantly recognizable due to a nick on her dorsal fin. Her carcass has yet to be spotted by whale watchers, but the orca may have died in the Strait of Juan de Fuca sometime last week.

An obituary for J28 written by Center for Whale Research director Ken Balcomb was published by the West Seattle Blog, and details the specifics of what may have led to her death.

“J28 was noted to be losing body condition in January 2016, presumably from birthing complications, and by July was clearly emaciated. If her carcass is ever found an examination of her ovaries may reveal how many ovulations/pregnancies she actually had, as well as her proximate cause of death (probably septicemia).”

The Seattle Times report quoted Orca Network spokesman Howard Garrett, who believes the death of J28 may have also led to the death of her 10-month-old calf, codenamed J53. He said that the calf was still in the nursing stage, and that his 7-year-old sister, J46, went through a “heroic effort” to save him and their mother.

Garrett also observed nicks and scratches on J53’s skin, which had most probably been a result of his sister and aunt trying to keep him on the surface by using their mouths to hold on to him. He believes J53 may have already been in a state of malnourishment, as the calf’s mother may not have had enough milk to feed him with “for quite a while.”

Balcomb’s documentation of the mother orca’s death included some passages on the steps J46 took to care for her relatives.

“(J53’s) sister, J46, had been catching and offering salmon to her mother and little brother for several months while mom was ill, but that was simply not enough nutrition provided to three whales by one little female no matter how hard she tried.”

All in all, there are only about 80 orcas following the death of J28 and the uncertain fate of J53. Balcomb says that’s close to the lowest population counts in decades, which is a big concern considering the lack of population growth in the two decades preceding the current decline.

Southern resident killer whales can be found in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in the vicinity of the San Juan Islands, the Seattle Times wrote. The animals were classified as an endangered species in 2005, as a result of a sharp downtick in population count from about 100 whales in the late-1990s to approximately 80 in 2001. Despite a mild increase in killer whale count in the years that followed, their numbers were back down to about 80 as of 2014.

Following that decline, nine calves were born between December 2014 and January 2016, with J53 being among the more recent births. But that positive development was negated by seven deaths, including three calves (J53 presumably included), and four adults, with J28 being the latest casualty.

In a report from KOMO News, Balcomb said that that certain measures need to be taken in order to prevent further orca deaths and to ensure existing populations receive enough food. And that may be facilitated by breaching four dams on the Lower Snake River in order to allow enough salmon availability for the surviving killer whales.


Orca thrill Abel Tasman visitors

October 28, 2016

Orca close to shore near Anchorage in the Abel Tasman National Park on Friday morning.

Abel Tasman Park visitors ran to the beach to get a glimpse of a pod of orca foraging close to shore.

Three orca drew a crowd of around 15 visitors when they came within metres of the beach near the Anchorage Hut on Friday morning.

The pod foraged in Torrent Bay before moving towards Boundary Bay where they surfaced near some kayakers who had a memorable photo opportunity to add to their national park adventure.

The Department of Conservation’s Anchorage Hut warden, Phil Armit, said orca were only seen in the park about four or five times a year.

The killer whales – actually the largest species of dolphin – are attracted to Tasman Bay and its tidal estuaries by the prevalence of stingrays, their favourite food.

A pod of orca drew a big crowd when they entered the Nelson Haven earlier this month.


Ross Sea becomes Antarctica world’s largest protected area

October 27, 2016

An enormous Antarctic bay, home to penguins and killer whales, became the world’s largest protected marine area on Friday.

A United Nations body sealed the deal after five years of negotiations, at a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.

“It’s near pristine and how many near pristine parts of the ocean do we have left on the planet?” WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson told CNN.

Twenty-four nations and the European Union agreed unanimously to declare the Ross Sea in Antarctica an official Marine Protected Area after negotiations brokered by the UN’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

According to the UN, 50% of ecotype-C killer whales (the smallest of the four types of Southern Hemisphere orcas), 40% of Adelie penguins and 25% of emperor penguins live in the area covered by the new park.

“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now,” United States scientist David Ainley, one of the first to call for the area to be protected, said in a statement.

35-year limit on deal

Not everyone is completely happy with the deal however — Johnson told CNN the Ross Sea deal would expire in 35 years.

“While we’re very excited about this we don’t want it to become a precedent for other marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean,” he said.

For a new marine park to be declared, Johnson said every country involved must agree — complete consensus is required.

“This has been a long, ongoing, challenging debate and I believe this one of the compromises in terms of getting that 100% consensus,” he said.

Johnson said the WWF would be working hard to make the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area permanent.

“It’s critical to set aside these really epic spots for diversity, not just as marine parks but as places that can build resistance to the changing climate,” he said.

‘Speedo diplomacy’ helped sway Russia

Russia had voted against the new protected area on five previous occasions before finally agreeing on Friday.

In a statement, a United Nations spokesman gave credit to UN Environment’s Patron of the Ocean Lewis Pugh, who has worked over the past two years to gain Russia’s agreement.

He even swum in the icy waters of the Ross Sea in 2015 to raise attention for the issue, in what was described as “speedo diplomacy.”

“I am overjoyed,” Pugh said in a statement. “The Ross Sea is one of the most magnificent places on Earth. It is one of our last great wilderness areas. This is a dream come true.”

According to the United Nations spokesman, Pugh made multiple trips to Russia to convince officials of the Ross Sea’s value.


Orca and calf spotted near Island Bay in Wellington

October 27, 2016

An orca and her calf in Island Bay on Thursday.

An orca and its calf provided an unexpected highlight for a Wellington woman’s sightseeing tour on Thursday.

The woman was showing a friend around the city on Thursday afternoon when she spotted the killer whales in calm waters off Island Bay.

The mother and calf were seen resting before continuing their journey south via Owhiro Bay.

An orca and her calf in Island Bay on Thursday.


Pod of killer whales kill and eat a humpback and its calf

October 21, 2016

A pod of killer whales have killed and eaten a humpback and its calf, just metres from startled fishermen who captured the extraordinary moment on camera

A pod of killer whales have killed and eaten a humpback and its calf, just metres from startled fishermen who captured the extraordinary moment on camera.

The incredible footage shows at least a dozen killer whales swarming around the carcasses of the huge animals as their blood and blubber spill into the water.

Crayfisherman Kevin Ostel took the remarkable video as he was sailing off the coast of Lancelin, north of Perth, in Western Australia.

The 10-metre long humpback and its young offspring are believed to have been drowned by the killer whales before tearing them apart.

Mr Ostel and his crew spotted a ‘commotion’ in the water before realising the disturbance was more than a dozen killer whales toying with two carcasses.

‘It must have just happened then that they killed the humpbacks as there was blood in the water,’ the fisherman told Daily Mail Australia.


First Orca Whale spotted in Akaroa Harbour this season

October 18, 2016

First Orca Whale spotted in Akaroa Harbour this season

Black Cat Cruises staff spotted the first orca of the season in Akaroa Harbour this week, a month earlier than the first spotting last year.

Black Cat Cruises Sales & Marketing Manager Natasha Lombart says that although technically there is no orca season in New Zealand, Black Cat Cruises have a few orca sightings each year and they tend to happen in the spring.

“Most people don’t know, that with the exception of human beings, orca are the most widely distributed mammal on earth,” says Lombart.

“The pod of orca our team saw in the Harbour today comprised of a mother and her calf, one large male, two juveniles and possibly another male. Females and males differ in length, with males being longer and bulkier than females. Females have smaller, more curved dorsal fins, and smaller flippers.”

The first spotting comes on the back of confirmation from Trip Advisor and their booking agent Viatour that Black Cat Cruises are not included in a ban, recently announced by TripAdvisor, that it will stop promoting tours that fail to meet animal welfare guidelines, particularly those involving “physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species”.

“As a certified SMART (Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism) and eco-tourism operator we applaud Trip Advisor’s move. Black Cat Cruises were never included in Trip Advisor’s “no touching of wild animals” policy, whereby it will no longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals.

“We already comply with their environmental regulations”, Lombart said. “Unlike many overseas operators, tours in New Zealand do not allow people to hold onto the dolphins, and nor should they.”


Non-profit scouts sites in Nova Scotia for captive whale sanctuary

October 14, 2016

Lori Marino, director of the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, said Friday they are looking for a site where freed dolphins and whales can roam a netted area roughly the size of 40 sport fields.

HALIFAX — A U.S.-based group is exploring the coasts of Nova Scotia in hopes of finding a sanctuary where previously captive whales and dolphins could dive deeply in cold, North Atlantic waters.


Lori Marino, director of the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, said Friday they are looking for a site where the creatures can roam a netted area roughly the size of 40 large sport fields.


An alternative is needed for the captured whales and dolphins that are currently kept in marinas and spend their lives performing or being on display for the public, she said.

“I want to give them back some of their welfare, some of their natural habitat and allow them to retire with freedom to do pretty much whatever they want without being imposed upon by people who want to ride on them and touch them and do tricks with them,” the Utah-based Marino said in an interview on Friday in Halifax.


The concept aims to teach people to see cetaceans as wild creatures rather than objects for human entertainment, in a setting more akin to a national park than a zoo. It imagines visitors viewing the animals in their natural habitat from a safe distance.


“It would be a place that people could go and see these animals, perhaps for the first time, in their own habitat and also learn about them authentically,” Marino said.


She says the project’s approximate cost would be $15 million, and it would include a visitor centre and staff who would ensure the five to eight whales, likely belugas and orcas, are fed and cared for.


The neuroscientists and marine mammal expert says whales and dolphins kept in captivity can’t be released into the wild as they haven’t developed the skills to survive, making a controlled sanctuary with food a necessity.

Marino says she can’t divulge which areas are being considered in Nova Scotia, but says the province’s coast is among several North American coastlines, including areas off Maine and British Columbia, where there is potential habitat.


She says a decision on a potential location will be made by the middle of next year by the non-profit, charitable group.


The group says it is consulting the federal Fisheries Department, first nations and other interested community groups about the regulatory approvals needed for use of coastlines as a netted-off sanctuary.


Marino said she held meetings with the federal Fisheries Department to explore what regulatory processes would be required for a sanctuary.


A spokesperson from the department was not immediately available for comment.


Protest planned against capturing whales for China

October 14, 2016

One of the organisers of the group Namibians against Plundering of Our Marine Life, Katja Glöditzsch, says they will protest against plans by the Russian ship Ryazanovka to catch and export Namibian marine resources to Chinese markets and aquariums.

The marine animals targeted for export would apparently be used for research purposes.

Glöditzsch yesterday told New Era the group would hand a petition to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources today at Walvis Bay.

Glöditzsch says hundreds of protestors are expected to gather at 15h00 at the parking area opposite Seapride Foods in town, from where they will march to the ministry’s offices to hand over the petition.

So far the group had collected more than 3 000 hand signatures and 7 980 online signatures but the figure is expected to rise as international animal groups also signed the online petition.

“We already have official permission from the municipal traffic department and Nampol to march and hand over the manual petition at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Walvis Bay. We want all animal lovers and environment-conscious Namibians to take part in the march so that we save our marine life,” she explained.

A petition handover to the captain of the vessel was called off on Sunday when Namport advised the group not to approach the vessel.

Namport’s port captain, Lukas Kafuna, on Sunday said that vessels within port limits should enjoy an unhindered stay while in port, not ruling out the legal implications such a vessel will have for Namport and the country.

The vessel that is owned by the Namibian registered company Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research is suspected to be used in capturing dolphins, whales, seals and penguins. The company and its technical support partner Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting have applied for permission to catch and export marine mammals from Namibia.

In the original application by the company it states “the Chinese market for such a venture is enormous and the demand currently stands at ten killer whales per year; 50-100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50-100 heads of common bottlenose dolphins; 500-1000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 penguins; and various sharks.”

Source: New

Orcas seen preying on seals in the Moray Firth

October 13, 2016

A group of killer whales could have departed their traditional hunting grounds in the waters of Orkney and Shetland to prey on seals in the Moray Firth.

Data from the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit, a north-east organisation, dedicated to the study and preservation of marine mammals, such as dolphins, porpoises and whales, has highlighted that sightings of orcas have spiralled in the waters between Moray and the north since 2001.

The group spotted only around four of the creatures along the northern and southern coasts of the firth 15 years ago, but by 2015, that number had shot up to 34 definite sightings.

In a research paper, published in the scientific journal Aquatic Mammals, the CRRU indicated there had been a total of 143 confirmed sightings during the 14-year period, with a total of 18 individual whales identified.

The work highlighted a number of potential factors behind the surge in activity, including the rise of online social networks and the number of people actively looking for the animals.

The authors of the report added that one of the possible reasons for the increase in killer whale sightings in the Moray Firth could be due to a drop in the population of common seals in Orkney and Shetland.

They stated: “The observed increase in Orca (killer whale) sightings in the Moray Firth from 2001 to 2015 also coincides with the exaggerated decline in P. vitulina (common seal) populations in Shetland and Orkney during this period, as whales are perhaps compelled to move further south in search of this pinniped quarry.”

In addition to seals, the researchers also observed the predators feeding on smaller cetaceans, and even seabirds like ducks.

The CRRU, which has been saving marine life in the region for more than 20 years, will use its insights into the Scottish orcas to increase efforts to preserve the species.

As a recognised charity, the CRRU depends on significant support from the public to carry out its research and life-saving rescue missions.

To find out more, visit

Source: Press and