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.