Triple threats of pollution, vessel noise and the availability of food are making it hard for a group of orca whales that live along the continent’s West Coast to increase beyond an estimated population of 80, says adecade-long U.S. study.
Southern resident orcas can be found in the Salish Sea off Vancouver Island and Washington State, and have been seen as far south asMonterey Bay, Calif., and as far north as Chatham Strait, Alaska.
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Lynne Barre, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Monday from Seattle, Wash., that experts don’t consider the southern residents in recovery, so the animals will remain an endangered species.
“Right now, they’re not growing as fast as our recovery criteria would require for them to be taken off the Endangered Species List,” she said. “They’ve been hovering around the 80s for quite some time.”
There are estimates the southern resident population once numbered at least 140 animals, and was perhaps as high as 200, but that was before nearly 50 were removed from the population in the 1960s and ’70s and placed into theme parks, Barre said.
She said since 2003 NOAA scientists have collected data, ranging from fecal and biopsy samples to satellite-location data and behavioural observations, in order to provide a comprehensive look into the health of the population, and to inform recovery efforts.