Dead newborn orca calf washes up near Vancouver Island

November 17, 2018

Officials say a dead newborn orca calf washed up on the shores of Nootka Island off Vancouver Island Friday.

KCPQ-TV reports Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is performing a necropsy to determine cause of death and also its ecotype, whether it’s a southern resident, transient or other type of orca.

Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator at the Center for Whale Research, told Q13 News he does not believe the dead newborn is from the endangered southern resident population.

But he said he won’t know for sure until DNA results come in, which could take weeks.

Southern resident killer whales’ numbers are the lowest they’ve been in more than three decades, with only 74 remaining in Puget Sound.

———

Information from: KCPQ-TV, http://q13fox.com/

UPDATE: The calf was only 3-5 days old. A member of the Transient ecotype the calf likely died becouse it was separated from its mother. The calf’s mother either died, the calf was neglected or the calf simply failed to thrive. 

Source: Terracestrandard.com

Orca ‘apocalypse’: half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution

September 27, 2018

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study.

Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves.

PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places.

“It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.

The international Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into force in 2004 to tackle the issue, but Jepson said the clean-up is way behind schedule. “I think the Stockholm Convention is failing,” he said. “The only area where I am optimistic is the US. They alone produced 50% of all PCBs, but they have been getting PCB levels down consistently for decades. All we have done in Europe is ban them and then hope they go away.”

The researchers said PCBs are just one pollutant found in killer whales, with “a long list of additional known and as yet unmeasured contaminants present”. Further problems for killer whales include the loss of key prey species such as tuna and sharks to overfishing and also growing underwater noise pollution.

The new research, published in the journal Science, examined PCB contamination in 351 killer whales, the largest analysis yet. The scientists then took existing data on how PCBs affect calf survival and immune systems in whales and used this to model how populations will fare in the future. “Populations of Japan, Brazil, Northeast Pacific, Strait of Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom are all tending toward complete collapse,” they concluded.

Lucy Babey, deputy director at conservation group Orca, said: “Our abysmal failures to control chemical pollution ending up in our oceans has caused a killer whale catastrophe on an epic scale. It is essential that requirements to dispose safely of PCBs under the Stockholm Convention are made legally binding at the next meeting in May 2019 to help stop this scandal.” Scientists have previously found “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution even in the 10km-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

“This new study is a global red alert on the state of our oceans,” said Jennifer Lonsdale, chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s whales group. “If the UK government wants its [proposed] Environment Act to be world-leading, it must set ambitious targets on PCB disposal and protect against further chemical pollution of our waters.”

The research shows that killer whale populations in the high north, off Norway, Iceland, Canada and the Faroes, are far less contaminated due to their distance from major PCB sources. ”The only thing that gives me hope about killer whales in the longer term is, yes, we are going to lose populations all over the industrialised areas, but there are populations that are doing reasonably well in the Arctic,” said Jepson.

If a global clean-up, which would take decades, can be achieved, these populations could eventually repopulate empty regions, he said, noting that killer whales are very intelligent, have strong family bonds and hunt in packs. “It is an incredibly adaptive species – they have been able to [live] from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between.”

He praised the billion-dollar “superfund” clean-ups in the US, such as in the Hudson River and Puget Sound, where the polluter has paid most of the costs: “The US is going way beyond the Stockholm Convention because they know how toxic PCBs are.”

Source: The Guardian.com

Canadian court sides with orca protection and Indigenous sovereignty; major setback for Trans Canada pipeline

August 30, 2018

Today, August 30, 2018 Greenpeace USA responded to a Canadian court’s ruling that the Canadian government did not properly assess the impact that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project could have on the survival of the endangered Southern Resident Orca, including the threat posed by a seven-fold increase in oil tanker ship traffic through the orcas’ habitat. The court also ruled that Indigenous people in British Columbia were not properly consulted before the project was approved by Canada’s government. The decisions represent a major setback for the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its prospects of being completed.

In response, Greenpeace USA Tar Sands Campaigner Rachel Rye Butler said:

“Today’s decision is a major win for Indigenous Nations and for the environment. It has long been obvious that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project violates Indigenous sovereignty and would cause irreparable harm to our environment and the health of people; while threatening the extinction of the Southern Resident orca. It’s time to pull the plug on this project once and for all.

“Today’s ruling gives Canada a chance to walk away from this disastrous and costly project and we encourage Prime Minister Trudeau to do so. The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is once again facing delay and uncertainty, making it all the more perplexing why the Canadian government would continue to push forward a pipeline that does not have consent from the Indigenous Nations whose land it crosses, and that threatens the climate and coastal economies.

“It’s not surprising that 99 percent of Kinder Morgan Canada’s shareholders voted today to officially sell the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project to the Canadian government. In what can only be viewed as a bailout to the company, the Canadian government bought the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion earlier this year as the company was looking to unload the beleaguered pipeline.

“Today’s decision is a testament to the power of people and the strength of the Indigenous-led movement against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. People will continue to resist until this toxic pipeline is cancelled for good.”

Greenpeace USA recently released a report documenting the threat that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project poses to local communities along the Pacific Coast, including the potential extinction of the Southern Resident orca. That is why the organization has called for Washington Governor Jay Inslee and his Orca Task Force to take bold action on the scale of implementing an emergency moratorium on all new fossil fuel tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat until the Southern Resident population is stabilized.

Earlier this year, energy company Kinder Morgan decided to abandon the Trans Mountain pipeline and are planning to sell it to the Canadian government after it faced, among other obstacles, an overwhelming wave of protests and negative press across Canada and in the Pacific Northwest United States.

Source: San Juan Islander.com

Orca lured from Comox Harbour with audio playback of other whales

August 2, 2018

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has successfully lured a transient male orca away from Comox Harbour, ending the killer whale’s nearly two week-long stay in the coastal waters.

The 27-year-old orca, known as T73B, delighted tourists and onlookers with his behaviour and visibility over the past week. But concern grew among whale researchers that he may become habituated to the harbour, which is plenty busy already without a killer whale hunting in the waters.

“We had a call with a number of experts to look at the current situation and the current risks with people in the estuary — paddleboarders, kayakers, even people swimming — and realizing this really is a public risk of human health and safety, said Paul Cottrell, DFO’s marine mammals coordinator.

On Thursday, the DFO led a multi-agency effort to “stickhandle” the whale away from the area using audio recordings of other whales with whom he’s been known to associate.

The plan was unprecedented in British Columbia, where no other adult whales have been successfully lured in this manner. But according to Cottrell, the saga unfolded swimmingly.

“There was an immediate reaction when we did the playback,” Cottrell said. “We had to do it carefully and in short pulses, and basically we were able to stickhandle the whale out of the estuary over a very shallow area off Cape Lazo into deep water.”

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, T73B has left the harbour. He was last seen heading northeast, in search of the whales on the DFO audio.

“We selected a recording made just a couple years ago, because it was of animals this whale knows very well,” said DFO whale researcher Jared Towers.

“We looked at his sighting history that the DFO maintains and has maintained for decades now. We found a couple different groups that he prefers to hang out with: T75s and T77s. So we thought well, he seems to be good buddies with those guys, so we used that recording to work.”

The orca was also known to associate with a pod of T34s and T37s, but his arrival in Comox followed what Towers described as a split with that group.

“It didn’t seem like he wanted to continue travelling with them,” Towers said. “We definitely chose not to play back that group for him for that reason.”

It’s hard to say what caused the split from that pod. But according to University of Victoria whale researcher Josh McInnes, T73B is a known loner from Alaska with some very curious habits.

“He’s a bit of a weird whale. He is really odd,” McInnes said.

The hope now is that T73B can keep his distance, especially with a B.C. Day fireworks extravaganza set for Comox harbour on Monday.

“I expect that we’ll have a sighting of him sometime in the next week or two,” said Towers, “and hopefully he’s with other whales doing regular whale stuff.”

Source: Vancouver Sun.com

Lone orca lingering near Vancouver Island marina has DFO concerned

July 28, 2018

The orca spotted swimming alone near the Comox Marina on Vancouver Island since Monday afternoon has been exhibiting unusual behaviour, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

DFO killer whale researcher, Jared Towers, says transient killer whales can travel over 100 miles a day, so it is particularly strange that this orca continues to swim back and forth inside the marina.

“They usually stay in one area until they’re finished feeding,” said Towers. “Sometimes that can be five minutes and sometimes that can be several hours and otherwise, they’re typically moving – on the go in one direction or another.”

He added that the Comox harbour has a lot of sand and sometimes that can make it harder for killer whales to navigate.

“He might just not be able to find his way out so far,” said Towers. “He certainly should be able to if he got himself in there, but we’ll see if he finds his way out.”

Though he said the orca has not shown any obvious signs of trauma or poor health, the DFO will continue to monitor it.

Prior to arriving in the harbour, the 27-year-old orca, known at T073B, was monitored swimming by the Gulf Islands with a group of killer whales. On Sunday, July 22, he split off from the group and arrived in the Comox marina around 4 p.m. the following day.

Ken Balcomb, founder and senior scientist with the Centre for Whale Research, said this type of orca used to be infrequent in the area but that has since changed.

“Since the seal population has done so well, they’re in the Georgia Straight, Comox area almost every day,” he said. “They’ll be in small groups and sometimes individual.”

Peter Hamilton with Lifeforce Ocean Friends snapped some photos of the orca earlier in the week, from his boat, but said he was dismayed to see other boaters disrespecting and harassing the orca by getting too close. Hamilton said he has filed an official complaint to the DFO.

“This orca is being constantly harassed by boaters. The orca can be safely watched from the boardwalk. We must reduce boat traffic that could result in severe injuries. All boaters, including sailboats and kayakers, must stay 200 metres from Orcas.”

The recently updated Marine Mammal Regulations guidelines can be viewed at www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org

Source: SA Observer.net

Cowichan Bay whale watchers record ‘alarming’ navy sonar testing in Saanich Inlet

June 16, 2018

A group geared up Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of the Saanich Inlet’s marine life, but on a recent visit captains from Ocean Ecoventures Whale Watching heard something they weren’t expecting.

“They were doing not only just sonar testing but invasive sonar testing,” says head captain Gary Sutton.

He used an underwater microphone to record the high pitch sound, he says came from nearby the navy’s HMCS Calgary.

“We actually went closer to it [and] once I shut down [the vessel] you could actually hear it through the hull of this boat with no hydrophone and that was shocking to me,” adds Sutton.

He says what’s most alarming is this was happening not far from whales.

“We actually had killer whales that day 10 minutes away.”

It comes as the endangered population of southern resident orcas has been dropped to just 75 members. The Center for Whale Research has listed L92, a 23 year old male, as deceased.

Source: Check News.ca

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

Canada announces $12M for killer whale research

March 15, 2018

The Canadian government announced it’s putting $12 million towards protecting killer whales from vessel collisions on the ocean through a new Whale Detection Initiative.

The funds will be distributed over five years to develop and test technologies that will help detect whales in real time.

About $9.1 million will go towards developing and testing various acoustic and imaging devices, including underwater microphones.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister, Dominic LeBlanc, says the government will spend another $3.1 million on research projects focused on helping protect the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales located off the Southern West Coast of B.C.

Three researchers from the University of Victoria—Francis Juanes, Rosaline Canessa and Stan Dosso—were awarded $935,000 in federal funds to study the impact of underwater noise on the southern pod, as well as study their main food source, the chinook salmon.

“We’re thrilled by this opportunity to undertake important research into human impacts on the southern resident killer whales and their prey,” said Francis Juanes, UVic fisheries ecologist and lead investigator for the chinook salmon research.

“We anticipate contributing significantly to understanding the stressors affecting these magnificent marine mammals and, ultimately, to mitigation measures to help ensure their long-term survival and success.”

Coastal geographer, Rosaline Canessa, is leading the vessel disturbance study and marine acoustics specialist, Stan Dosso will head up the echolocation research.

There are about 76 Southern Resident Killer Whales left, causing them to be considered an endangered population under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The small population also has a low reproductive rate and incurs a variety of threats caused by human activity.

Several conservation groups , have been working to protect the species, calling for the public to sign petitions and have the government control vessel traffic, enforce Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and protect the ocean food chain.

The Government of Canada is working with Indigenous peoples, as well as local stakeholders and communities in six pilot sites to determine the key impacts of marine vessel activity on coastal environments.

The six sites include: Northern B.C.; Southern B.C.; St. Lawrence River, Quebec; Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick; South Coast, Newfoundland and Arctic, Nunavut.

The new initiative falls under the 2016 $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, with the goal of ensuring whales are around for future generations.

The plan also aims to remove abandoned boats to reduce the risks of shipping on marine animals and the ocean.

Source: Kelownanow.com

Whale-watching company claims navy conducted blasting despite orca warning

September 1, 2017

Workers in Victoria’s whale-watching industry are calling for change from the federal government, saying the Canadian navy is conducting blasting that is impacting orcas.

A confrontation between a whale-watching tour boat captain and a naval official was caught on camera Thursday roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Victoria.

“You just set an explosive off two seconds ago and there are killer whales right there,” SpringTide Whale Watching’s Mark Williams is heard saying. “There’s killer whales behind us there.”

Another captain for SpringTide Whale Watching said the boat was coming around the corner of Bentnick Island, the site of a naval explosive test range, when there was a huge boom.

“It made the water shutter,” said Cam Ontkean.

Williams and other whale-watching companies have sounded off about naval blasting on Bentnick Island before.

A similar incident in early August prompted the two sides to come together and try to improve communication about killer whale safety.

But Williams said the navy has no excuse for the incident on Thursday.

“There was no confusion, there were 100 per cent whales there and we had been speaking to them for hours before,” he said. “There was no excuse this time.”

The Victoria whale-watching fleet claims it called the navy at around noon telling officials orcas were in the area.

Despite that, captains say detonations shook the island at around 3 and 3:30 p.m. with whales near shore.

“Passengers get a little freaked out and we go on with our day,” said Ontkean. “Whales possibly have lifelong damage.”

The navy says in both cases, whales and boats were at safe distances – at least 500 metres from the blast zone – but captains claim an image taken right after a blast shows how close the whales were.

“At no point was anyone in danger in the events that occurred yesterday, and I believe that the protocols were followed and that the navy did nothing wrong,” said Lt. Andre Bard.

The fleet is calling it a troubling pattern and is calling for action from the top down.

“We appeal to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help, not hurt, killer whales,” said SpringTide owner Dan Kukat. “Yesterday, killer whales got hurt.”

Source: Vancouver Island.ctvnews.com

Transient orca sightings on the rise near San Juan Islands

July 12, 2017

The village of Eastsound was treated to a rare sight on the fourth of July when a few transient orcas swam through the sound.

“This is the first time I have ever heard of an Orca that close to town and only the third time I have seen them near Rosario,” said Deer Harbor Charters Captain Cameron Fralick, who was able to snap a few photos of the whales with his phone. “We picked them up around Rosario and watched them take a tour of Ship Bay, Crescent Beach, Madrona Point and Indian Island.”

The occurrence is likely to become more common given that the transient orca population is steadily growing. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s June 2015 study shows the population of the transient whale population is increasing.

“The west coast transient population has shown considerable growth since the 1970s in response to the recovery of its marine mammal prey base, and is now estimated to number more than 500 whales and be near its carrying capacity,” said the study. “[Their] diet is comprised of a variety of marine mammal species and squid. Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) represent about half or more of the prey captured or attacked in British Columbia, Washington, and Southeast Alaska.”

Harbor seals, which were once on the brink of extinction due to being over-hunted, now are the most common mammal in the region. The Salish Sea is said to have the highest population of harbor seals in the world, according to NOAA.

“As the seal population has increased, the transients are coming in more,” said Ken Balcomb, founder and senior scientist for the Center for Whale Research. “The past couple years it’s becoming more frequent; now it’s almost daily.”

The transient orcas eat the seals, while the resident orcas are in competition with the seals for salmon. A study from Canada’s NRC Research Press (https://goo.gl/GB2cqJ) on predation of Chinook salmon found that harbor seals were ultimately more impactful predators than the orcas.

“ … Although harbor seals likely consume less Chinook salmon biomass compared to fish-eating ‘resident’ killer whales, seals consume many more Chinook salmon in terms of numbers of fish,” said the study. “The selectivity or size preferences of the two species are very different; however, the Chinook salmon in pinniped diets are almost entirely smolts, so when delayed effects of Chinook salmon maturation are accounted for, predicted impacts of seals on future adult salmon returns are potentially double the annual consumption by killer whales.”

This correlation is likely one of the reasons, apart from those of which are human-caused, that the resident orca population is in decline. While harbor seals maintain their abundance, the transient orcas remain to eat them.

Source: San Juan Journal.com