Then, when seals became rare, the killer whales turned to sea lions. And a lot of people don't like hearing that. Later, they realized why the whales swam up to them. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and other species of dolphin. 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. 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. All three pods uniting is referred to as a s uper pod. 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. The domino effect reaches even farther. Then in 2005, Pitman met a French biologist at a science conference who showed him a photo of an odd-looking killer whale swimming in the southern Indian Ocean. It lives in parts of the ocean near Antarctica — and it could be the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists. They are the largest dolphins. The photograph above was taken on July 7, 2010. 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. The killer whale is easy to identify by its size and its striking coloration: jet black on top and pure white below with a white patch behind each eye, another extending up each flank, and a variable “saddle patch” just behind the dorsal fin. 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. Copyright © 2005 NPR. Killer whales, just like their dolphin cousins, communicate through underwater sounds with one another. Other researchers are studying why California’s sea otters seem to have become more vulnerable to disease and parasites. NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. I'm Michele Norris. Mr. DOUG DeMASTER (Director, Alaska Fisheries Science Center): This hypothesis is too simplistic, and it's not ready for the textbooks yet. The chemicals were affecting their ability to reproduce. Danita Delimont/Getty Images Reproduction and Offspring . Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information. This suggests that four killer whales, feeding exclusively on sea otters, could have driven the population into decline. Whale researchers spotted a baby orca swimming energetically with its mother west of San Juan Island on Friday. "This was a very different-looking group of killer whales," says Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (A) Conceptual model of PCB bioaccumulation and magnification, leading to elevated PCB concentrations in killer whale populations. NIELSEN: DeMaster is director of the federal government's Alaska Fisheries Science Center. One killer whale would need to eat 1,825 otters a year to live. Each pod has distinctive noises, so whales in one pod can sense if another whale is part of its group. A group of ecologists says it has solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. Where do sea otters live? 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. Sea otter numbers were stable from 1993 through 1997 in Clam Lagoon, whereas in Kuluk Bay they declined by 76%. An analysis of the DNA will determine if this is actually a completely new species or just an unusual subtype. Pitman adds: "It's like seeing a dinosaur or something. Populations of mammal-eating transient orcas, gray whales and humpback whales are increasing. "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." But sea otters living in the Bering Sea off Alaska probably think differently. Either way, the mystery killer whales of the Southern Ocean have been found. Approximately 2,500 killer whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean—home to the most well-studied killer whale populations. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a new development among sea otter populations off the coast of Alaska. 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. NPR’s John Nielsen reported that this caused up to an 80% decline in the otter population. Scientists found extremely high PCB levels in the animals’ bodies. Photos from New Zealand showed a bunch of whales stranded on a beach. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally. Pitman says it must have looked like a fishing line with fish on it — it looked like breakfast. affected. Orcas have mostly black skin with white patches. ", There was no mistaking its peculiar look, says Ballance. Then she multiplies that number by 365 days. ", Pitman picks up the story: "The sun came up in the morning at 5:50. "And most importantly," Pitman adds, "they had a little tiny eye patch," a white spot under each eye characteristic of killer whales. We had type D killer whales swimming around our boat. Accuracy and availability may vary. Scientists say they've found a mysterious type of killer whale that they've been searching for for years. ", "There they were," Ballance recalls, for a moment at a loss for words. Increased killer whale predation is the likely cause of these declines. Scientists are finding the same trend around the world. First, Williams determines that the average orca needs to eat the equivalent of five to seven sea otters a day just to get by. It's one of those moments that biologists live for. 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. Lifestyle. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian Islands have fallen by as much as 80 percent. "And you can imagine them thinking, 'Hey, where's our fish?' Their ship at Cape Horn was trapped at anchor for eight days by howling weather. Killer whale, (Orcinus orca), also called orca, largest member of the dolphin family (Delphinidae). They live in pods. "From the beginning, I had referred to it as the needle in the haystack," she says. Killer Whale Predation on Sea Otters Linking Oceanic and Nearshore Ecosystems J. Serious scientists, like Doug DeMaster, don't think much of it either. If there were more fish, they say, marine mammals and orcas would have plenty to eat. ", It was a slow start. Washington’s sea otter population isn’t growing as fast as it once was. Then she multiplies five to seven by 170, which is the estimated number of mammal-eating orcas living near the Aleutians. 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. For Pitman, the hunt was on. K Pod K pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident killer whale community with only 17 members. Williams says the answer turned out to be a simple one. Lull for killer whales. I can't even ... it was thrilling for all of us." The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record. December 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm . Fig. What kinds of other animals share the sea otters’ habitat? Terry Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says that's because the killer whales eat them. Ecologists say killer whales are eating the otters, but as NPR's John Nielsen reports, not everyone buys that theory. (The sea otter is an endangered species). The primary focus of CWR research is the Southern Resident population of killer whales (orcas). But then they got a 12-hour quiet spell. And baby makes 75: newborn orca boosts endangered whale population. They are easy to identify because of their distinctive white and black colouring. 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. A group of ecologists says it solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. Credit: Weiss et al., “Modelling cetacean morbillivirus outbreaks in an endangered killer whale population,” Biological Conservation, 2020. The mouth comes up, takes the sea otter, grabs it and gulps it down. These giant pectoral fins come up on either side of the sea otter. "It's a big ocean, and it's a rough ocean. Sea otters are still classified as endangered. They are found in all the world's oceans, from the cold of the Arctic to the tropical seas. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. (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. In recent decades, several populations of killer whales have declined and some have become endangered. Marine scientists suggest the Southern Resident orcas face problems centered on their diet. "And I looked down, and there they were, the New Zealand killer whales," he recalls. Local fishers had been complaining that some kind of whale was stripping fish off their lines. Before reading: Describe a sea otter. Although the future looks grim for the otters at the moment, there is some hope on the horizon. These patches were unusually small, in some cases almost nonexistent. 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. 1 Global PCB concentrations in killer whales. John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington. 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. It's gone. Many people are trying to figure out why. 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. 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. " he says. You know, they're killing cute, little, fuzzy sea otters.' "But that was definitely the way to bring them to the boat.". For the moment this debate is largely academic; nobody is seriously talking about killing orcas to protect otters, seals and sea lions. Courtesy of J.P. Sylvestre SCIENCE. What might threaten sea otters? This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. "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. Killer whales, or Orcas (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales in the oceanic dolphin family. PCBs first came under scrutiny in the 1970s, when birds, seals, and otter populations began rapidly decreasing. The notion that there might be some unusual kind of killer whale emerged in 1955. 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 … 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. 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. NIELSEN: But it's not just whale-huggers who hate the orca hypothesis. This caused up to an 80 % decline in the darkest parts of ocean! 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