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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...
Fin whale

From managing commercial slaughter to saving the whale – the International Whaling Commission at 75

Governments come together under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to make decisions...

Sad News for the Southern Residents

L120, the new calf who was just born in early September, has sadly gone missing and is assumed to have died.  L120 was the first new calf in the critically endangered Southern Resident population since 2012, and offered some hope for the group after two other members of L pod were confirmed missing and likely deceased this summer.

L120 was the third calf for Surprise! (L86), but was not seen with Mom in recent sightings by the Center for Whale Research, the organization that maintains the annual census of the Southern Residents.  Surprise’s second calf, Sooke (L112), died in February 2012 at 3 years old, and a necropsy revealed signs of severe acoustic trauma.

Southern Resident orcas are threatened by biocontamination – the accumulation of toxins and pollutants in their environment and subsequently in their bodies – and calves often bear the brunt of this danger as nursing mothers metabolize and offload their own toxic buildup through their milk.  Prey depletion is also a major threat to Southern Residents, and prey shortages can intensify the effects of other threats. Numbers of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon, have declined drastically in the Salish Sea and in rivers along the west coast in the last century.  Many salmon populations are endangered, threatened by habitat degradation and the loss of access to spawning grounds.  Increased vessel noise and traffic can cause acoustic masking for the orcas, making it more difficult to forage and locate prey.

 This heartbreaking loss brings the Southern Resident population down to just 78 individuals, 20 members less than their peak count in 1995, and 10 fewer than when they were added to the Endangered Species List in 2005.  To help these beautiful and iconic whales recover, we must address the threats on multiple fronts – help restore salmon populations and habitat, reduce the amount of toxins both already in and entering our oceans, and minimize stress from vessel noise and traffic.  The amplifying effect of each threat upon the others means that there is no easy fix or single problem to solve.  It’s a complicated battle, but one worth fighting so we can give the next new calf their best chance at survival.