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 … Terry Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says that's because the killer whales eat them. 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. Marine scientists suggest the Southern Resident orcas face problems centered on their diet. Sea otters are still classified as endangered. "We left that night," Ballance recalls, and "pounded into the seas so that we could get to our spot at first light the next morning. hide caption. NOAA biologist Lisa Ballance, who's married to Pitman, was part of the team. " he says. Local fishers had been complaining that some kind of whale was stripping fish off their lines. December 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm . All three pods uniting is referred to as a s uper pod. This suggests that four killer whales, feeding exclusively on sea otters, could have driven the population into decline. It's gone. The killer whale (also known as the orca) generally did not consume sea otters in the past, but now consumes thousands of otters. John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington. 1 Global PCB concentrations in killer whales. NIELSEN: But it's not just whale-huggers who hate the orca hypothesis. Share this: Facebook; Twitter; Reddit; Google Classroom; Email; Print; By Science News for Students. Orcas have mostly black skin with white patches. Although the future looks grim for the otters at the moment, there is some hope on the horizon. What kinds of other animals share the sea otters’ habitat? PCBs first came under scrutiny in the 1970s, when birds, seals, and otter populations began rapidly decreasing. NIELSEN: DeMaster is director of the federal government's Alaska Fisheries Science Center. . Populations of mammal-eating transient orcas, gray whales and humpback whales are increasing. Killer whales, or Orcas (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales in the oceanic dolphin family. "And most importantly," Pitman adds, "they had a little tiny eye patch," a white spot under each eye characteristic of killer whales. Where do sea otters live? It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally. (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. The notion that there might be some unusual kind of killer whale emerged in 1955. It's still waiting to be tested. Still others are investigating what to do about killer whales feeding on sea otters in Alaska. The team had lowered an underwater microphone over the side on a long cable, with cameras attached. ", There was no mistaking its peculiar look, says Ballance. "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. But sea otters living in the Bering Sea off Alaska probably think differently. 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. Washington’s sea otter population isn’t growing as fast as it once was. Photos from New Zealand showed a bunch of whales stranded on a beach. I should point out that killer whales around the world are doing fine, but this population is listed as endangered on both sides of the border of the U.S. and Canada. Other researchers are studying why California’s sea otters seem to have become more vulnerable to disease and parasites. The whales were smaller than other killer whales, and they had rounded heads and pointier fins. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian Islands have fallen by as much as 80 percent. Each pod has distinctive noises, so whales in one pod can sense if another whale is part of its group. The mouth comes up, takes the sea otter, grabs it and gulps it down. 2). 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. As they documented more attacks, they began wondering why a 10-ton orca would waste its energy on a 65-pound sea otter. The photograph above was taken on July 7, 2010. 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. Scientists found extremely high PCB levels in the animals’ bodies. Killer Whale Predation on Sea Otters Linking Oceanic and Nearshore Ecosystems J. In recent decades, several populations of killer whales have declined and some have become endangered. They are easy to identify because of their distinctive white and black colouring. Serious scientists, like Doug DeMaster, don't think much of it either. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a new development among sea otter populations off the coast of Alaska. (A) Conceptual model of PCB bioaccumulation and magnification, leading to elevated PCB concentrations in killer whale populations. Ecologists say killer whales are eating the otters. "Visibly," she says, "this form is the most unusual and distinct form of killer whale on the planet.". NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian Islands have fallen by as much as 80 percent. Before reading: Describe a sea otter. K Pod K pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident killer whale community with only 17 members. Courtesy of J.P. Sylvestre There are fewer fish available for them to eat, more noise in the water affecting their ability to find the fish, and more pollution in the water that impacts their health when they are not well fed. But Jim Hasties, a federal biologist and a major proponent of the orca theory, says there is one solution that almost everyone can agree on: continuing efforts to rebuild the region's stocks of great whales. If there were more fish, they say, marine mammals and orcas would have plenty to eat. "And I looked down, and there they were, the New Zealand killer whales," he recalls. Whale researchers spotted a baby orca swimming energetically with its mother west of San Juan Island on Friday. And I said, 'That's it! These giant pectoral fins come up on either side of the sea otter. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. First, Williams determines that the average orca needs to eat the equivalent of five to seven sea otters a day just to get by. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record. The chemicals were affecting their ability to reproduce. 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. But then they got a 12-hour quiet spell. The killer whale, also known as an orca (Orcinus orca), is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. When the big whales got hard to find, Williams says, the orcas switched to big, stellar sea lions and then to medium-sized seals. "This was a very different-looking group of killer whales," says Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Danita Delimont/Getty Images Reproduction and Offspring . (The sea otter is an endangered species). Killer whales, just like their dolphin cousins, communicate through underwater sounds with one another. This is due to the fact that killer whales are used to eating animals two to five times the size of otters, so they need to eat two to five times as many otters as seals or sea lions. 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. And by the late 1990's, I'd see 'em three or four times a day. I can't even ... it was thrilling for all of us." Many people are trying to figure out why. All rights reserved. The primary focus of CWR research is the Southern Resident population of killer whales (orcas). "The idea is that, if we can figure that out, we might be able to find some ways that we can further help recover the endangered population, like Southern residents." Williams says the answer turned out to be a simple one. 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 are found in all the world's oceans, from the cold of the Arctic to the tropical seas. Scientists are finding the same trend around the world. Then she multiplies five to seven by 170, which is the estimated number of mammal-eating orcas living near the Aleutians. 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. It's one of those moments that biologists live for. It lives in parts of the ocean near Antarctica — and it could be the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists. They can tell, even in the darkest parts of the sea, where items are by how quickly their noises bounce back. For the moment this debate is largely academic; nobody is seriously talking about killing orcas to protect otters, seals and sea lions. Copyright © 2005 NPR. (B) Global overview of PCB concentrations in killer whale blubber (ppm, parts per million).Light and dark green circles represent males and females, respectively. "But that was definitely the way to bring them to the boat.". Ms. WILLIAMS: Followed lastly by sea otters, which, you know, still give you calories, but it's going to take you a bit to fill up on them. 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. Question Sheet: Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales. Increased killer whale predation is the likely cause of these declines. For Pitman, the hunt was on. Credit: Weiss et al., “Modelling cetacean morbillivirus outbreaks in an endangered killer whale population,” Biological Conservation, 2020. Second, we evaluated the impact of killer whales on sea otter populations at Adak Island by contrasting otter population trends and sur- vival rates between Clam Lagoon, an area uniquely inaccessible to killer whales, and ad- jacent Kuluk Bay, an open coastal environment (Fig. And baby makes 75: newborn orca boosts endangered whale population. 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. affected. A group of ecologists says it solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. One killer whale would need to eat 1,825 otters a year to live. 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. "It's a big ocean, and it's a rough ocean. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and other species of dolphin. We had type D killer whales swimming around our boat. Although the population size and status of killer whales in the Aleutian Islands are unknown, these animals are commonly seen. Ms. WILLIAMS: We all want to think they're smiling at us and happy and they'll eat a few dead fish, and we're out there saying, `Well, gosh, no. ", It was a slow start. Either way, the mystery killer whales of the Southern Ocean have been found. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information. The domino effect reaches even farther. They live in pods. Then, when seals became rare, the killer whales turned to sea lions. Orcas were eating otters because the really big whales they used to eat were nearly wiped out by commercial whalers back in the 1950s. That's the New Zealand killer whale!' When the sea lion population crashed, they started fishing sea otters. A. Estes,* M. T. Tinker, T. M. Williams, D. F. Doak After nearly a century of recovery from overhunting, sea otter populations are in abrupt decline over large areas of western Alaska. SCIENCE. "And you can imagine them thinking, 'Hey, where's our fish?' An analysis of the DNA will determine if this is actually a completely new species or just an unusual subtype. The Navy estimates the southern population of killer whales in the Puget Sound region could be subject to the non-lethal take two to 51 times a year during the seven years of Navy activity. 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. Different populations of killer whales make different vocalizations, and different pods within these populations may even have their own dialect. Accuracy and availability may vary. Lifestyle. What might threaten sea otters? 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