Chinook salmon decimated, southern resident orcas are residents no more

Summer is synonymous with seeing whales in the Pacific Northwest, but visits from the locally-beloved southern resident orcas are becoming few and far between. Experts say the dramatic absence is likely directly tied to tanking salmon returns in the Fraser River, which were historically abundant. 

Another endangered southern resident orca missing and feared dead, scientists say

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -- Scientists worry another endangered Southern Resident killer whale may be dead.The orca whale known as L41 was not seen in an encounter with his pod on Jan. 24, scientists with the Center for Whale Research said.He hasn't been spotted by the group since August, and because of his advanced age, scientists worry he may be dead."Given his age and that he looked a little thin in our January 2019 encounter, we fear he may be gone and consider him missing unless he shows up unexpectedly in an upcoming encounter," scientists with CWR said.

Drone footage offers scientists new perspective in understanding killer whale behavior

SEATTLE - Drone technology is now offering scientists a new perspective on killer whale behavior and help endangered southern residents.Scientists at the University of British Columbia are using aerial drones to get a rare glimpse at the whale's eating habits while underwater.The footage will help them determine if endangered southern residents are getting enough Chinook salmon to meet nutritional needs.Researchers say comparing northern residents to southern residents is an important step to understanding foraging habits.“We’re studying northern residents, that unlike southern, appear to be healthy, generally better body condition, a larger population size,” researcher Sarah Fortune explained. “And we're looking at their feeding behavior and the prey that they have available in habitats, and we're comparing that to the smaller population of southern residents that show poor body condition.”This is the first time researchers are using drones to record behavior and prey fields at the same time.

Ferries slowing down to save endangered orcas

PUGET SOUND, Wash. -- Some ferry trips across the Puget Sound could take a little longer than usual but it's for a good cause: They're slowing down and steering clear of whales in the water.Responsible for the most sailings by a single industry in the Puget Sound, there's no denying the noise impact Washington State ferries have on the endangered southern resident orcas.

Tracking whales from the ferry? There's an app for that

SEATTLE -- New technology could help ships and ferries navigate around whales in Washington, reducing the chances of a deadly ship strike.This week, Washington State Ferries will be the first to use the WhaleReport Alert System throughout Puget Sound, which will alert captains to credible whale sightings in the area.Vessels are one of the main threats to the critically endangered southern resident orcas, both in terms of disturbance and the potential for a catastrophic ship strike.In 2016, an 18-year-old orca male known as DoubeStuf, or J34, died from blunt force trauma injuries due to a ship strike, according to the necropsy.This summer, a ferry hit and likely killed a young humpback whale in Elliott Bay.

New lawsuit seeks protection zone for southern resident orcas

SEATTLE -- A new U.S. lawsuit filed Monday seeks to establish a whale protection zone for endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest.The Center for Biological Diversity and the Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance sued NOAA Fisheries in U.S. District Court in Seattle, saying the agency has failed to act on a petition it filed in 2016.The petition sought to bar vessels from a 10- to 12-square-mile (26- to 31-square-kilometer) area west of San Juan Island where the orcas, called southern resident killer whales, feed from April through September each year.

Both orca babies alive, all 3 southern resident pods spotted

SEATTLE (AP) — Researchers have documented that both babies in the southern resident killer whale pods are still alive.The Seattle Times reports researchers with the Center for Whale Research, which tracks the southern resident population, photographed both babies Sunday, alive and seemingly well.That was welcome news in a population of endangered orcas that dropped to just 73 this month, with three adults missing and presumed dead.

Snake River dam spills up to 300 gallons of oil into river

LOWER MONUMENTAL DAM, Wash. -- Up to 300 gallons of oil may have spilled into the Snake River from a leaking, power-generating turbine at Lower Monumental Dam.On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Q13 News that, "any oil spilled into the river is too much."Lower Monumental Dam is about 40 miles northeast of Tri Cities.

3 southern resident orcas presumed dead, Center for Whale Research says

SEATTLE -- Three more of the critically endangered southern resident orcas have been declared dead by the Center for Whale Research.The center said Tuesday that an orca from each pod is being declared dead after long absences from Washington waters.The three whales are J17, K25 and L84.

Poop-detecting dog helps sniff out key problems for endangered orcas

SAN JUAN ISLANDS, Wash. -- The absence of southern resident orcas in inland waters this year is stalling the science researchers say help shape policy, but it also shows what they already know: There's not enough food -- and their poop proves it.Eba, a rescue dog owned by researcher Deborah Giles, has a nose for orca scat.

It's a girl! Why the newest orca calf's gender is so important

SAN JUAN ISLANDS, Wash. -- The newest southern resident orca calf is reportedly fat and healthy, but that's not the only news researchers are celebrating: She's also female.It's a great sign for the dwindling population that has seen far more male calves than females in recent years."If she makes it her teens she might start producing babies of her own," said Ken Balcomb of Center for Whale Research. "Unfortunately, none of them made it recently to their teens."Balcomb, looking at a photo of the new calf known as J56, indicated that the endangered population is obviously trying to repopulate.While the population has more than 70 whales, he said only about a third of them are of reproductive age.