killer whales thinning otter population by npr

He also says the original idea that these orcas once ate the great whales can't be proven. They are easy to identify because of their distinctive white and black colouring. Populations of otters along the Alaskan and Canadian coast, which had recovered to a few hundred thousand, were driven back down to just a few thousand. Last year, he assembled a team to go to Cape Horn, in Chile, to look for what's now technically called the "type D" killer whale. The mouth comes up, takes the sea otter, grabs it and gulps it down. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian Islands have fallen by as much as 80 percent. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and other species of dolphin. "From the beginning, I had referred to it as the needle in the haystack," she says. All rights reserved. It's one of those moments that biologists live for. PCBs first came under scrutiny in the 1970s, when birds, seals, and otter populations began rapidly decreasing. I'm Michele Norris. The team was able to snip off small tissue samples from the whales by firing a harmless dart, attached to a line, into their skin. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information. New Type Of Killer Whale Found Swimming In Southern Ocean The notion that there might be some new kind of killer whale emerged in 1955, when photos from New Zealand showed a … Sea otters are still classified as endangered. People raised on movies like "Free Willy" tend to think of killer whales as well-meaning, fence-jumping giants who want nothing more than to live in perfect harmony with all the other creatures in the ocean. Lifestyle. John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally. Serious scientists, like Doug DeMaster, don't think much of it either. "And most importantly," Pitman adds, "they had a little tiny eye patch," a white spot under each eye characteristic of killer whales. Later, they realized why the whales swam up to them. But sea otters living in the Bering Sea off Alaska probably think differently. affected. Pitman says it must have looked like a fishing line with fish on it — it looked like breakfast. Ecologists say killer whales are eating the otters, but as NPR's John Nielsen reports, not everyone buys that theory. Where do sea otters live? Terry Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says that's because the killer whales eat them. "Visibly," she says, "this form is the most unusual and distinct form of killer whale on the planet.". Approximately 2,500 killer whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean—home to the most well-studied killer whale populations. Orcas have mostly black skin with white patches. Washington’s sea otter population isn’t growing as fast as it once was. He says the authors of the orca paper greatly overestimate the number of sea otters being eaten by the killer whales, partly because he's sure these killer whales are also eating lots of other things, like fish. As a result, populations of sea otters in the Aleutian Islands have declined from an estimated 60,000 animals in the mid-1980s to under 10,000 by 2000. A group of ecologists says it solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. They live in pods. You know, they're killing cute, little, fuzzy sea otters.' Scientists say they've found a mysterious type of killer whale that they've been searching for for years. Copyright © 2005 NPR. Ecologists say killer whales are eating the otters. (A) Conceptual model of PCB bioaccumulation and magnification, leading to elevated PCB concentrations in killer whale populations. And baby makes 75: newborn orca boosts endangered whale population. "This study was really a decade-long look at what do killer whales die from, from California to Alaska all the way out to Hawaii," he sasy. Mr. DOUG DeMASTER (Director, Alaska Fisheries Science Center): This hypothesis is too simplistic, and it's not ready for the textbooks yet. "And you can imagine them thinking, 'Hey, where's our fish?' Local fishers had been complaining that some kind of whale was stripping fish off their lines. The photograph above was taken on July 7, 2010. NIELSEN: Environmental groups say the orca paper does a disservice to the cause of conservation by diverting attention from what they say is the real problem in the Bering Sea: overfishing. The whales were smaller than other killer whales, and they had rounded heads and pointier fins. Killer whales, just like their dolphin cousins, communicate through underwater sounds with one another. 1 Global PCB concentrations in killer whales. NIELSEN: Williams is part of a team that first observed these sneak attacks seven years ago when they were studying the otter die-off along the Aleutian Islands. Before reading: Describe a sea otter. Orcas Gobbling Alaskan Otters / Change in Killer whale diet puts ecosystem on edge of ruin Carl T. Hall, Chronicle Science Writer Oct. 16, 1998 Updated: Feb. 3, 2012 4:14 a.m. In recent decades, several populations of killer whales have declined and some have become endangered. A new theory suggests a massive decline in seals, sea lions and sea otters in the North Pacific may have been triggered by over-fishing of great whales. Mr. DeMASTER: The people who really know killer whales, who spend their lives following them around and studying them--they just don't find any evidence that large whales are an important part of their diet. Scientists are finding the same trend around the world. hide caption. Accuracy and availability may vary. These giant pectoral fins come up on either side of the sea otter. (killer whales spouting water) I would see a killer whale on average of probably once every three or four years in the '70s and '80s. This suggests that four killer whales, feeding exclusively on sea otters, could have driven the population into decline. Although the population size and status of killer whales in the Aleutian Islands are unknown, these animals are commonly seen. Some researchers can distinguish individual pods, and even matrilines (the line of relationship that can be traced from one mother to her offspring), just by their calls. Question Sheet: Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales. Scientists found extremely high PCB levels in the animals’ bodies. I can't even ... it was thrilling for all of us." It's still waiting to be tested. Photos from New Zealand showed a bunch of whales stranded on a beach. The team had lowered an underwater microphone over the side on a long cable, with cameras attached. Danita Delimont/Getty Images Reproduction and Offspring . Scientists recently found that as many as half of the world’s killer whale populations may not survive the next 100 years because of PCB pollution. They use these sounds to help travel underwater. NIELSEN: Williams says it's hard to overstate how much these findings upset people who all but worship killer whales. It lives in parts of the ocean near Antarctica — and it could be the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists. A rare photo of "type D" killer whales off South Georgia island, located between South America and Antarctica, shows the whales' blunt heads and tiny white eye patches. Then she multiplies that number by 365 days. "This was a very different-looking group of killer whales," says Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All three pods uniting is referred to as a s uper pod. 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