Killer whale woes linked to salmon shortage

Orca mother and calf
A southern resident killer whale calf accompanies its mother in 2004. (NOAA Photo)

What’s killing the killer whales? After following the whales and analyzing their poop for years, scientists say the Pacific Northwest’s population is dwindling primarily due to a chronic lack of Chinook salmon.

The killer whales, also known as orcas, aren’t dying of starvation. Rather, the scientists say the stress of not getting enough to eat is causing orca pregnancies to fail.

Other factors, such as marine pollutants and disruptive ship traffic, contribute to the whales’ woes as well. But in a paper being published in the June 29 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers say the data point most directly to nutritional stress.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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