Recovering the Southern Resident Killer Whale with Research and Conservation
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Recovering the Southern Resident Killer Whale with Research and Conservation

October 18, 2019

[music and rushing water] [music] Narrator: The killer whale, a majestic creature, revered by Native tribes in the Pacific Northwest, and by locals and tourists alike. The animals most often found here are the Southern Resident killer whales, a population defined by its summer range in the inland waters of Washington state, extending north into Canada, and they are strictly fish eaters. Unfortunately, this Southern Resident population is a far cry from historical estimates that may have reached 200. In the 1960s, numbers plummeted, mainly from a live-capture fishery that removed approximately 47 whales for display at marine parks. By the early 1990s, the population made a slight recovery to around 100, but was followed by a 20% drop. This decline was a mystery, and in 2005, the Southern Residents were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Anticipating this, NOAA Fisheries jump-started a research program in 2003, and together with many partners, developed a recovery plan guiding research and management of three main risk factors, the first being prey availability. Brad Hanson: So, for identifying prey availability, we had to address prey selection first because very little was known prior to the early 2000s as to what the primary prey of Southern Resident killer whales were. So to address this question, we collect tissue and scales from the predation events by the whales. “Stop!” You can actually take fish scales and identify the species and the age of those. Narrator: What Brad and his team have found is that over 70% of their diet is Chinook, also known as king salmon. And in 2006, advances in genetics enabled researchers to pinpoint what river systems these fish were from. It turns out that about 90% of the Chinook salmon these killer whales eat in the summer come from one watershed in Canada, the Fraser River. Lynne Barre: From a management perspective, knowing which rivers the preferred salmon prey of the whales comes from is extremely important. NOAA manages both recovery of killer whales and restoration of salmon, that are also depleted, and if we can focus our salmon recovery efforts in a way that also benefits the whales, we get the best bang for the buck. Narrator: With these animals spending so much time near urban areas, scientists and managers are also worried about the level of toxic contaminants in the whales. To measure this, scientists collect tissue samples using a projected dart, that to us, would feel like getting a pin-prick. Samples are sent back to the lab for processing and analysis. Results show it’s likely that contaminants are affecting the whale’s health, including their ability to reproduce successfully or fight off disease. The third risk factor is the effect of noise and boat traffic. These animals inhabit busy shipping lanes and often come into contact with recreational boaters and whale watching tours. Scientists monitor their behavior, and deploy a specialized tag called a DTAG, to record noise levels detected at the whale. Lynne Barre: The data show that the whales change their behavior. They call louder in response to the vessel sound around them. They also spend less time foraging and more time traveling, and do things like breaching and tail slapping. So with all that information, we developed a 200-yard vessel regulation to keep the boats a little bit further from the whales, so that there’s some more protection, but it’s also a distance that allows for an educational and economically viable whale watch industry. Narrator: As winter approaches, these whales head out the open ocean, and until recently, nobody knew where they went. But with the development of satellite tags, a large male known as K25 was tagged in December of 2012, and everything changed. “I’m on target.” Brad Hanson: We were able to get a 94-day track from the animal, in which he made three trips to California with his pod mates. And we were able to catch up with those animals off the southern coast of Oregon in March on one of the large NOAA vessels and follow them for 10 days. Narrator: Since 2012, researchers have tagged and tracked several other animals in the winter, yielding information never previously known about this population, including feeding hotspots. Prey samples confirm that Chinook salmon remain a dominant prey item, with other species mixed in, like halibut and lingcod. The new data is exciting and informative, but there is still more to learn. Lynne Barre: These whales are still a mystery to us. There’s still a lot we don’t know. But we do know that these whales live a long time and are slow to reproduce, like humans, and so recovery is really going to take a long-term effort. But, major breakthroughs, like learning about where the whales go in the winter, really can help us identify what the health needs are for the whales, to improve their survival, and enables us to focus on the right tools for recovery.


  • Reply James Franklin February 16, 2017 at 1:35 am

    Ok I know they are members of the dolphin family since they have teeth, but are they related to whales also?

  • Reply Willian Ramos March 31, 2017 at 1:09 am


  • Reply Janie Luna September 12, 2017 at 7:59 pm


  • Reply Reeve October 22, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Can you in the future also possibly focus on efforts to help remove these beautiful animals from aqua parks? They do not deserve to be stuck, deprived of food, and desensitized in tiny concrete pools away from their pods for all or most of their lives just to amuse humans

  • Reply Darlene Sjostrom February 4, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    The KinderMorgan TransMountain pipeline expansion would take tanker traffic carrying bitumen oil out of the Vancouver harbor from 70 tankers to 400 tankers or more. These whales do not have a hope in hell if this pipeline is allowed to be built.
    Since this is an American produced video I wonder if you know that a spur line is also to be constructed from Vancouver to the two Washington cities of Anacortes and Fernwood. Just how much more tanker traffic would be added to the above number.
    This information has not been revealed to the Canadian public.
    What are you going to do about your Texas company?

  • Reply Victor Ybanez March 14, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    godbless you

  • Reply Crowman March 18, 2018 at 5:07 am

    I notice that nothing is said about the 40,000 seals in their area eating salmon as well competing directly with the killers. It would be interesting to see the graph showing the decline of killers overlaid with the boom of the population of seals maybe its nature herself killing them off.

  • Reply My Alluring Beauty April 27, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    come on NOAA fisheries, they're orcinus orca, a species of dolphins, whatsmore, they don't kill whale, they simply eat salmons k

  • Reply My Alluring Beauty April 27, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    05:00 the calf appeared malnourished

  • Reply Eve Rainbowcloud July 8, 2018 at 6:11 am

    Some of this channel’s netwerk nieds to hoe a garden. Their voices are quite displeasing. Some think their work is to rule.

  • Reply yearoftherat August 10, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    The idea of using farmed salmon to remedy this issue is absurd. Restore the river systems and the wild, natural salmon runs will recover. This is where focus should be along with run-off pollutants and shipping traffic – NOT harvested salmon.

    'Americans consume a lot of salmon. Unfortunately, the majority is the unhealthiest kind.

    If there was ever a fish you should never eat, this is it. And for a number of reasons. The dangers of farmed fish, particularly farmed salmon, are enough to make your stomach turn. Most salmon marketed as “Atlantic” salmon is farmed, meaning fish are raised in conditions that have been shown to be ridden with pesticides, feces, bacteria and parasites. (15)

    It’s illegal to fish wild Atlantic salmon because they’re listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, even with current protections and efforts to restore the species, there’s up to a 75 percent chance U.S. Atlantic salmon could be extinct by 2100. Farmed salmon aquaculture is a huge reason the species can’t rebound, along with other issues like climate change, water pollution and water extraction. (16)

    Here are a other reasons inflammation-boosting farmed salmon needs to be a fish you should never eat:

    An October 2016 study found omega-3 levels in farmed salmon are rapidly dropping and are half of what they were five years ago. Part of the reason for the nutrient loss is salmon farm feed contains less ground anchovy content. The high demand for farmed salmon feed is causing anchovy numbers to crash, so less is now being used in salmon feed patties. (17) (This is another argument for eating lower on the food chain.)
    University of New York at Albany researchers found dioxin levels in farm-raised salmon to be 11 times higher than those in wild salmon. Dioxins are classified as “dirty dozen” chemicals that are stored in fat cells. Their half life is 7 to 11 years. The environmental pollutants are linked to cancer, organ damage and immune system dysfunction (18, 19)
    A 2011 study published in PLoS One found mice-eating farmed salmon actually showed weight gain and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes symptoms. (20) The risk comes from the persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, that tend to be high in farmed salmon. POPs looked at in this study include organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and PCBs.
    A 2011 Food and Water Watch aquaculture report highlighted some concerning statistics. Hundreds of thousands of farmed fish escape into the wild. These fish are often carrying “super lice” parasitic hitchhikers that even the harshest chemicals no longer kill. Some even carry other diseases that can debilitate nearby wild fish populations. Farmed salmon have also been treated with banned pesticides, another serious toxicity concern. (21)
    Fish farms threaten other sea life in other ways too. And remember: Fish farms don’t really combat overfishing: they contribute to it. Salmon, for instance, are carnivores. It takes about 2½ to 4 pounds of other fish to create the salmon chow needed to produce 1 pound of farm-raised salmon. The overfishing of wild sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and other fish upset natural ecosystems. “We are not taking strain off wild fisheries,” agricultural economist Rosamond L. Naylor told the Los Angeles Times back in 2002. “We are adding to it. This cannot be sustained forever.” (22)
    In November 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon and will not require any labeling, leaving consumers in the dark. It was approved despite findings the GMO salmon doesn’t actually grow as fast as its creator claims. (23, 24)'

  • Reply Human Capital November 9, 2018 at 3:47 am

    Propaganda…. The true agenda is to enslave humanity removing our natural inalienable rights through the newest environmental laws being presented in the fear of climate change to enslave humanity worldwide!

    Billions of Dollars being dumped into saving 77 whales… Think again it's BS political PROPAGANDA!

  • Reply Northleftdirt1 1 December 1, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    At no point in recorded history has there been 200, actual an increase since 1960. Reduce the number of ever expanding seal and sea lion populations and restore our rivers and spawning habitat.

  • Reply Doug MacCormack February 28, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Watch my super pod when there were 94 southern orcas i

  • Reply Jane Evans April 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    Idiot sandwich

  • Reply B T April 20, 2019 at 6:53 am

    Women drivers

  • Reply hosebeelion July 12, 2019 at 5:08 am

    Do killer whales ever fight each other??

  • Reply Véronique Ruelle July 14, 2019 at 9:46 am

    WEARETHEORCAS petition bracelets etc etc ……

  • Reply kent moldenhauer July 15, 2019 at 3:05 am

    Save these orcas very important

  • Reply Leeann hell yeah man September 26, 2019 at 12:17 am

    You guys should partner with 4ocean and oceanx

  • Reply Teresa Brown October 1, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    You are an agency that could help save them. Please advice the NMFS to have a seat available for the southern residents at the table the very next time the salmon are allocated. Thanks

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