The Daily Troll: Baby orca thought to be dead.

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Orca baby: Oh, no

Puget Sound’s newest baby orca whale was declared deceased by the Orca Conservancy today. The calf, designated L120, wasn’t spotted with its mother over the weekend. It’s suggested the calf may have starved. The conservancy says lactating females burn calories quicker than other whales. If they aren’t getting enough food, producing enough milk to feed their calf is difficult. . One potentially hopeful note: The item suggests that Hood Canal is producing more fish than in the past – but orcas haven’t rediscovered it yet.

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Seven-week-old Orca calf in Puget Sound has died

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Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 7.52.19 PMSeven-week-old Orca L120 has died, the Orca Conversancy said in a press release.

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 7.52.09 PMThe calf was born to L86 in September. L86 was seen Friday, Saturday and Monday without L120, according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

L120 apparently died while its pod was in the open ocean off Washington or British Columbia, the Center for Whale Research said.

The pod was offshore for a week to 10 days, and the orca designated L-120 might have been lost in a storm in the middle of last week, Balcomb said.

The calf’s birth was heralded in September, as the South Resident population has dropped to 78, the lowest count in more than a decade.

The Puget Sound killer whales primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. Offspring tend to stay with their mothers for life.

Fish runs are much stronger in Hood Canal than they were 30 years ago, Orca Conservancy said, but the South Resident Killer Whales haven’t rediscovered it since restoration.

When food is hard to find, it’s hard for lactating females to produce enough milk to support a calf, according to Orca Conservancy.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Celebrated baby orca, first born in area since 2012, dies

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 7.30.50 PMScreen shot 2014-10-23 at 7.30.32 PMA killer whale calf born about seven weeks ago in the Salish Sea off the south coast of B.C. has died, says Orca Conservancy, a Washington-based volunteer group working to protect orcas and their habitat.

Called L120, the calf was celebrated as the first born in the area since 2012, and its death leaves 78 southern resident killer whales in a declining population considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

“I’m pretty bummed,” said Shari Tarantino, president of the conservancy.

The group had heard from scientist Ken Balcolm of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, that the calf had been absent for nearly a week. The mother, L86, was photographed Friday, Saturday and Monday without the calf and it was not seen with its brother or aunt.

“The whole family is there, except the baby, so it’s gone. They don’t stay away from their families that long,” Tarantino said.

Balcolm said the calf would have weighed about 180 kilograms.

Dr. Peter Ross, a marine toxicologist at the Vancouver Aquarium, said the death left him “discouraged but I won’t say panicked.” Thirty per cent of orca calves die before their first birthday, so the death could have been from natural causes, he said.

However, L120’s mother is one of only 18 female breeding southern resident killer whales.

For every southern resident orca, there are 100,000 people in B.C. and Washington, he said, which makes it imperative not to harm them by what we put into drains and toilets. These orcas are among the world’s most PCB-contaminated marine mammals as well as the most studied, he said.

L120 was a sibling of calf L112, named Victoria and born off the Ogden Point breakwater in 2009. It was killed by bluntforce trauma of unknown origin in the Juan de Fuca Strait in 2012.

A healthy male was born in 2005.

Tarantino said L120’s death could have been due to an inadequate milk supply, given that lactating females need up to four time more calories and there weren’t enough available Chinook salmon.

Other major dangers include noises from seismic testing and ocean traffic that impede the orcas’ communication, Ross said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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Seven-week-old orca calf has died, group says

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The southern resident population has dipped to 78, which is less than it was in 2005 when NOAA added the southern resident orcas to the Federal Endangered Species List.

Researcher Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island said to be healthy the southern resident pods need to produce four or five babies a year. He believes a lack of salmon for the orca to eat is weakening the animals, and if salmon numbers don’t improve, the orcas could be in serious trouble.

Other scientists say the orca bodies are so contaminated that the mothers are feeding toxic milk to their babies.

The Puget Sound killer whales primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. Offspring tend to stay with their mothers for life.

Fish runs are much stronger in Hood Canal than they were 30 years ago, according to the Orca Conservancy, but the South Resident Killer Whales haven’t rediscovered it since restoration. When food is hard to find, it’s hard for lactating females to produce enough milk to support a calf, according to Orca Conservancy.

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Send in the Drones….

 

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Mobly, a customer-built hexacopter, is noisy. (You can hear it buzzing in the video above.) Mobly is much quieter, however, than a helicopter and can get much closer to whales swimming in the ocean—close enough, even, to spot individual whales’ distinctive markings.

Flying a drone just about anywhere can be fraught with challenges. Yet one group of marine researchers braved the paperwork and regulations to capture some footage of killer whales swimming along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Mobly hovered over pods of orcas and snapped good quality photos of 77 different whales over a few weeks in late August, reports Robbie Gonzalez for io9.com.

Killer whales love to each Chinook salmon, but researchers think that poor salmon seasons and fishing may be effecting the health of the whale populations. This drones’-eye view will help the team identify individuals and figure out how healthy the whales are.

A collaboration among Vancouver Aquarium,  NOAA and a company called Ariel Imaging Solutions, the project aimed to measure orcas’ weight to see how the whales were faring. When orcas loose weight, they “replace much of the fat in their blubber layer with water in order to maintain a firm, streamlined shape,” writes cetacean researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard in a blog post. Changes in body shape like this aren’t visible from the side, but the team suspected that it might be visible from above.

Barrett-Lennard describes what they found:

That first day was memorable not only for images of whales, but for the amount of high-fiving that took place….The images of the whales were stunning, and revealed right away that we weren’t going to have difficulty distinguishing robust and thin whales. We could readily identify individuals based on scratches and scars on theirs saddle patches, which were easier to see from above than I expected, and we could positively identify pregnant females. Most importantly, the whales didn’t react to Mobly visibly; not only did they not appear disturbed, they didn’t seem to notice him at all.

A good salmon season this year meant that most of the whales are doing well. However two orcas, an older male and a female who had lost a calf earlier this year, were very thin. Both were missing by the end of the short study.

The drone’s footage also captured some less serious footage—young orcas playing, lots of social interaction within groups and dolphins hanging out with the killer whales.

Barrent-Lennard notes that he looks forward to more drone-aided whale research, and, indeed, other teams are also working on this same idea. One group from Olin College and the whale conservation nonprofit Ocean Alliance hopes to use a drone to fly through whale ‘blow,’ the spray cetaceans spout from their blowhole. Mucus, hormones and microbes in the blow could help the researchers monitor whale health another way. That group has yet to get all the permits, but perhaps the success of the Vancouver-based Mobly can smooth the way.

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7-Week-Old Baby Orca Missing, Presumed Dead

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 6.41.34 PMScreen shot 2014-10-21 at 6.42.02 PMAssociated Press and Seattle Times staff

FRIDAY HARBOR — A killer whale born to much hope in early September apparently died while its pod was in the open ocean off Washington or British Columbia, the Center for Whale Research said.

The baby was the first known calf born since 2012 to a population of endangered orcas that frequent Puget Sound in Washington.

It has not been seen since its pod returned in recent days to inland waters of western Washington, said center’s Ken Balcomb.

“The baby is gone,” he said Tuesday.

The pod was offshore for a week to 10 days, and the orca designated L-120 might have been lost in a storm in the middle of last week, Balcomb said.

“A baby would not be without its mother for that long of a period. They generally stick right with its mother,” said Shari Tarantino, president of the board of directors at Orca Conservancy, a Seattle-based non-profit.

The baby’s body has not been found, she said, but it would be hard to find unless it washes ashore.

The baby was a member of “L pod,” one of three closely tracked families within the dwindling Puget Sound population.

Researchers observed the pod, but not the baby, on Friday in Puget Sound, on Saturday in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, and on Monday in Haro Strait, between San Juan Island and Victoria, British Columbia.

The mother is there, aunt’s there, big brother,” Balcomb said. “The baby didn’t make it.”

That leaves 78 killer whales in the Puget Sound population.  In 2005, the group was protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The newborn was spotted in the first week of September off San Juan Island. Two other whales are presumed dead after disappearing earlier this year, so the birth was hailed.

“We were being guardedly optimistic that a turning point had been reached, but that is not the case,” Balcomb said.

The unique population numbered more than 140 animals decades ago but declined to a low of 71 in the 1970s, when dozens were captured for marine parks and aquariums. Then orcas were listed as endangered in 2005.

The striking black and white whales have come to symbolize the Pacific Northwest. Individual whales are identified by slight variations in the shape of their dorsal fins and distinctive whitish-gray patch of pigment behind the dorsal fin, called a saddle patch.

The Puget Sound killer whales primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. Offspring tend to stay with their mothers for life.

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L120 Declared Deceased / Center for Whale Research Reporting

Monday, October 20, 2014.

Contact: Shari Tarantino, President – Board of Directors @ 216-630-5177 / orcaconservancy@gmail.com

Orca Conservancy regrets to inform you that seven week old L120 of the endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales has been declared deceased.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said, “L86 was seen and photographed on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, all without L120.”

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(photo credit: Center for Whale Research)

….Survivorship from near the time of birth to about 6 months of age was estimated to be about 60% through 1987 (estimated a few different ways, none of which were very precise, but all giving the same answer within a few percent).

Lactating females burn two-four times as many calories as other females. It’s hard to produce enough milk when food is hard to find, and it’s hard for a calf to survive when it does not get enough to eat.

Hood Canal used to be an important feeding area for SRKWs, but they lost interest in it while restoration was in progress. Fish runs are much stronger there now than they were 30 years ago but SRKWs haven’t rediscovered it.

In about 15 years, SRKWs should see benefits from the Elwha Dam removal. We hope we’ll still have enough of them left then that it will matter. We need to be doing a lot of additional restoration work to get population growth back in the 3%/yr neighborhood that we know is feasible.

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