B.C. marine mammal expert says moving killer whale from Miami a death sentence

May 28, 2018

A B.C. marine mammal expert is throwing cold water on an idea to repatriate a southern resident killer whale to the waters off the West Coast, where it was was born.

“I think this could be a very cruel and inhumane thing to do,” said Andrew Trites, who is the director of the University of B.C.’s Marine Mammal Research Unit.

“Lolita is not a young whale.”

Tokitae becomes Lolita

In 1970, the female whale known as Tokitae, a member of the L-pod of killer whales, was captured from the waters off Washington state and British Columbia. The orca is now in its 50s and for most of its life has lived in captivity at Miami’s Seaquarium.

The animal was given the name Lolita when it arrived in Miami.

On Saturday, members of Washington state’s Lummi Nation, completed a journey to Miami with an 1,800 kilogram totem pole to display at the aquarium.

It’s part of an $8.5-million US effort to bring the whale back to the Salish Sea.

Jewell James, a Lummi Nation carver says it’s time Seaquarium gave up the animal, which he said has been forced for 48 years to perform twice a day. James describes the whale’s tank as a prison cell.

“She’s our relative and we want her back,” he said Sunday in Miami, where protests were held over the issue.

For its part, Miami’s Seaquarium says it has no plans to hand over Lolita, although the conversation over the whale’s release has gone on for decades.

Robert Rose, curator emeritus for Miami Seaquarium, says he’s worked with the orca for 23 years. Rose said the whale is too old to be moved. He’s also worried Lolita would be exposed to pathogens and diseases that would kill the animal if moved.

He’s highly critical of the Lummi Nation’s plan.

“Really they should be ashamed of themselves, they don’t care about Lolita, they don’t care about her best interests, they don’t really care whether she lives or dies,” he said.

But James and the nation insists the plan is doable, which would see the killer whale transported to the West Coast.

It’s also working on buying land in Washington’s San Juan Islands for a sea pen and wants to arrange for experts to work with Lolita to rehabilitate the whale.

The ultimate goal would be to release the orca into the animal’s original pod. Lolita’s mother, Ocean Sun, is still living with the pod.

James says he hopes the campaign will raise awareness about Tokitae.

“The attention that we are bringing is not for us,” he said. “It’s going to make the public aware that a corporation, Seaquarium has been taking advantage of Totikae for 48 years. It’s time for her to go home.”

Trites says he respects the nation’s sentiment, to correct past cruelties of whales being captured in the ’60s and ’70s, but says that the window has passed to bring Lolita back.

“She is a senior citizen and I really worry about … the ethics,” he said. “She’s had constant companionship with people, with white-sided dolphins and she’s not adapted to come out here.”

In the early 2000s the killer whale Keiko was released from captivity in Mexico to waters near Norway after being rehabilitated in Oregon.

It died within a year of being released and did not assimilate with other killer whales.

To view the VIDEOS visit the Source at cbc.ca


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Northern resident killer whale numbers reach record high

May 25, 2018

Population numbers have more than doubled since the 1970s

While the northern resident killer whales have yet to be seen in the Prince Rupert harbour this year, marine researchers have seen an increase in their numbers.

On May 11, the Pacific division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada tweeted the latest statistics for the pod populations.

“The 2017 Northern Resident #KillerWhale numbers are in – this population has grown to a maximum of 309 whales! This number includes 5 confirmed whale deaths and 10 calves born,” DFO’s tweet reads.

In the 1970s, when DFO launched its study of the northern resident killer whales, they totalled 120 whales.

“The numbers have more than doubled since the beginning of the study. They took a bit of a downturn in the late 1990s, during a time when chinook salmon were particularly scarce in some poor salmon years,” Lance Barrett-Lennard, the director of the marine mammal program at the Vancouver Aquarium, said.

“It’s kind of a success story, that particular population. We’re really happy to see that trend continuing.”

Killer whales usually give birth every five years, and a high infant mortality rate is a factor of low population numbers. Marine mammal researchers study the difference between annual births and deaths, and the three per cent birthrate in the 2017 study shows a healthy rate. The death rate was particularly low last year, which bodes well for the population of whales.

The latest statistics are the highest recorded number for the northern resident killer whales. Barrett-Lennard said researchers aren’t sure why the population has grown so much, but it looks as though the numbers are rebounding.

The most likely theory, said Barrett-Lennard, is the killer whales were killed by humans.

“People generally didn’t like killer whales through most of the 1900s until the last 25, 30 years. Fishermen really didn’t like them, they saw them as competitors for fish, they saw them to be dangerous,” he said. “It’s very easy to kill a killer whale with a rifle. If you had fishermen shooting at them, it wouldn’t take many deaths a year to really drive the population down.”

Since then, public opinion of the species has changed, and people from all over come to B.C.’s coasts to whale watch.

When the study of the northern resident killer whales began in the 70s, the most reliable place to spot a killer whale off the coast of B.C. was in the Johnstone Strait. Like the numbers of the pod, that too has changed.

“We live in fortunate times in a way, if we’re interested in animals like this and killer whales in particular because sightings have become much more common along the whole coast,” Barrett-Lennard said. “In particular, in Prince Rupert, we’ve had a fairly consistent — until this year — visitations of the northern resident pod right into the harbour. It impacts people in that direct way, they have a much better chance of seeing them now.”

oast,” Barrett-Lennard said. “In particular, in Prince Rupert, we’ve had a fairly consistent — until this year — visitations of the northern resident pod right into the harbour. It impacts people in that direct way, they have a much better chance of seeing them now.”

Source: The Northern View.com

Federal government limits B.C. chinook fisheries to help killer whale recovery

May 24, 2018

The federal government is closing some recreational and commercial chinook fisheries on the West Coast in an effort to help save endangered southern resident killer whales.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Thursday that a lack of prey for the whales is one of the critical factors affecting their recovery.

Southern residents inhabit the waters from south and central Vancouver Island all the way to Northern California where they hunt for the salmon.

There are just 76 of the whales left and LeBlanc said in a news release that a reduction in the total chinook fishery of 25 to 35 per cent will help conserve the orca’s main food source.

The closures will be in the Juan de Fuca Strait and around portions of the Gulf Islands, the department said in the release.

There will also be partial closures at the mouth of the Fraser River to protect key foraging areas for the whales.

Source: The Star.com

Orcas and freedivers mingle off Cabo San Lucas in rare and mesmerizing encounter; video

May 8, 2018

Freedivers off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, spent nearly three hours Friday in the company of curious orcas.

The accompanying footage, captured by Regi Domingo of Pelagic Safari, shows one orca remaining almost totally motionless in a vertical position for several seconds while watching a diver and his camera.

Domingo said the encounter occurred five miles offshore, in the Sea of Cortez, and that the sleek mammals seemed as mesmerized as the divers were.

The company wrote on Facebook: “Believe it or not… Cabo San Lucas! An absolutely epic day on the water. Orcas in Baja are like the holy grail and yesterday we were fortunate enough to have three hours of playtime with a friendly pod.”

There were at least a dozen orcas, or killer whales, and all but one juvenile were females, Domingo said.

She added that this family unit has been spotted recently elsewhere in the Sea of Cortez, feeding on a type of rays called mobulas, as well as small sharks and humpback whale calves.

The female orcas were protective of the juvenile male, but curious of the divers.

“They were exhibiting really interesting behaviors with us,” Domingo said. “They were staying vertical, checking us out. But they were super calm.”

They would drift back, and come back in for close looks at the divers. Some would open their mouths slightly while looking at the divers in what Domingo described as “strange movements.”

On Monday, the same orca family unit was spotted off La Paz, 70 miles to the north, but the Cabo San Lucas diving community is hopeful that the iconic mammals will return.

Mobula rays, known for their spectacular leaping abilities, are found throughout the southern Sea of Cortez.

OrcasCabo1

To watch the video visit the Source: Pete Thomas Outdoors.com

Transient orcas welcome a newborn calf in Hood Canal waters

May 1, 2018

A family of transient orcas visiting Hood Canal has a healthy newborn calf cavorting about with them, says local whale-watching group Puget Sound Express.

The baby orca brings the number of whales in the pod, known as T65A, to six.

They have been traversing Dabob Bay and other waters of Hood Canal for several days. Unlike resident orcas, who feed on salmon, transient orcas hunt for harbor seals and sea lions to eat.

The whales are silent while hunting – but after a successful kill, they feast and celebrate with vocalizations. Puget Sound Express captured video and hydrophone audio of the orcas celebrating after one recent kill while hungry seagulls swooped down looking for scraps.

After the celebration, the whales went silent again.

Puget Sound Express says the leader of this transient pod was born in 1986 – and she has had five successful orca calves since then. Experts say she appears to have time for two or three more calves before her breeding period comes to a close around age 40.

In one other encouraging sign, Puget Sound Express says some of the younger orcas are stepping up to lead some of the hunts.

In contrast to the struggling salmon-eating southern resident orcas, the region’s transients are flourishing, thanks to federal protection of marine mammals such as seals and sea lions.

Source: Komo News.com