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Starving Orca Whales Dying in Puget Sound

Orcas face many threats in addition to starvation, including pollution and vulnerability to oil spills.

October 31, 2016

It’s been a bad year for the Salish Sea’s southern orca community. The Center for Whale Research says a second adult female has died. That brings the recent death toll to three.

There’s more bad news. J28, the latest orca female to die, had a calf under the age of 1.

“The child was not looking good for this entire summer either,” said Ken Balcomb, the director of the Center for Whale Research. “And now his sister is desperately trying to keep him alive, and she can’t do it.”

Related: How Helping Salmon Could Save Puget Sound’s Baby Orcas

Orcas are dying because they’ve been starving. Jim Waddell, a former civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says Chinook salmon — a primary food source for resident orcas — are also in trouble.

“And a large number of those, maybe at least half, come from the Snake River. So when those Snake River stocks collapse, those orcas don’t have enough to eat,” said Waddell, who advocates for breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River.

That’s an option being examined through a series of court-ordered public meetings being held throughout the region until early December.

The federal judge who ordered the public discussion is presiding over the latest legal challenge to the federal government’s management plan the threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead that must swim past the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric dams.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the agency in charge of orca recovery. It has said orcas face many threats in addition to starvation, including pollution and vulnerability to oil spills.

Orcas have been on the endangered species list for a decade now. With these deaths, the southern orca population drops to 80.



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The orca known as L91 and her new calf, L122, are seen in a photo taken from a drone by NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium for health assessment. The drone was more than 100 feet from the orcas.
 

NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium

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