Record low sightings of endangered killer whales concerns scientists


WATCH: Scientists are sounding the alarm over the unusual behaviour of a endangered killer whale species. Ceilidh Millar reports. 

Mark Malleson, lead skipper with the Prince of Whales Whale Watching Tours, says he has seen a record number of transient killer whales this season.

“It has been amazing,” explained Malleson. “Best year that I’ve seen so far.”

There is another species of orcas, called Southern Resident killer whales, whose recent migration patterns has Malleson and others concerned.

“We’ve seen a lot of animals that have shown up quite lean and skinny” Malleson said.

The resident killer whales are most active off the waters of Vancouver Island and Washington State.

Since April of this year, the three orca pods have been sighted only 27 times according to the Center for Whale Research.

This summer turned out to have the lowest number of sightings since studies on the population began in 1976.

“This population is on the razor edge of extinction,” explained Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Last year marked the deadliest year for the species in more than two decades.

Six resident whales died, including one of the oldest whales in the world who was affectionately known as “Granny.”

Wilhelmson said it was a huge blow to the population.

“They had a serge in babies a few years ago and then last year several key members of their population died” Wilhelmson said.

There are only 77 resident whales left.

In 2002, the Southern Resident killer whales were listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

In March 2017, the federal government created an action plan but advocates say more needs to be done.

“The government needs to recognize that you can’t just start talking about these things you have to actually take action” Wilhelmson explained.

Scientists believe their recent disappearance could be attributed to the decline in their food population.

90% of the whales’ diet consists of Chinook Salmon, but the food source has been cut in half since the 1980’s.

Wilhelmson also believes pollution and increased noise trafficfrom boats in the waters may also be factors.

“We see Alaska closing their Chinook fisheries,” Wilhelmson explained. “We see Washington State stopping the expansion of fish farming. We need immediate action.”

For the first time in two months, the three orca pods emerged from the waters this week near Secretary Island.

It acts only as temporary relief as concerns still remain the whales are searching for a new home.


Ceilidh MillarCeilidh Millar

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