The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record. ", There was no mistaking its peculiar look, says Ballance. Different populations of killer whales make different vocalizations, and different pods within these populations may even have their own dialect. Serious scientists, like Doug DeMaster, don't think much of it either. 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. For the moment this debate is largely academic; nobody is seriously talking about killing orcas to protect otters, seals and sea lions. ", "There they were," Ballance recalls, for a moment at a loss for words. One killer whale would need to eat 1,825 otters a year to live. Killer whales, or Orcas (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales in the oceanic dolphin family. But not everyone is buying the theory. "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, just like their dolphin cousins, communicate through underwater sounds with one another. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian islands have plummeted by as much as 80 percent. 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. 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. Approximately 2,500 killer whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean—home to the most well-studied killer whale populations. The team had lowered an underwater microphone over the side on a long cable, with cameras attached. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information. If there were more fish, they say, marine mammals and orcas would have plenty to eat. Either way, the mystery killer whales of the Southern Ocean have been found. "And most importantly," Pitman adds, "they had a little tiny eye patch," a white spot under each eye characteristic of killer whales. And a lot of people don't like hearing that. 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. 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. 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. A group of ecologists says it has solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. You know, they're killing cute, little, fuzzy 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. John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington. The domino effect reaches even farther. Photos from New Zealand showed a bunch of whales stranded on a beach. Then she multiplies that number by 365 days. He also says the original idea that these orcas once ate the great whales can't be proven. hide caption. It's one of those moments that biologists live for. The chemicals were affecting their ability to reproduce. Scientists say they've found a mysterious type of killer whale that they've been searching for for years. They can tell, even in the darkest parts of the sea, where items are by how quickly their noises bounce back. They live in pods. But sea otters living in the Bering Sea off Alaska probably think differently. (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. 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. "And you can imagine them thinking, 'Hey, where's our fish?' Scientists found extremely high PCB levels in the animals’ bodies. And baby makes 75: newborn orca boosts endangered whale population. (A) Conceptual model of PCB bioaccumulation and magnification, leading to elevated PCB concentrations in killer whale populations. 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. "And I looked down, and there they were, the New Zealand killer whales," he recalls. Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian Islands have fallen by as much as 80 percent. 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. Orcas have mostly black skin with white patches. NIELSEN: In the current issue of the journal Ecology, Williams and her colleagues show just how big the killer-whale bite out of the otter population is. Each pod has distinctive noises, so whales in one pod can sense if another whale is part of its group. The primary focus of CWR research is the Southern Resident population of killer whales (orcas). Many people are trying to figure out why. Killer whales in the north Pacific switched to eating Harbor seals, Northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, and finally Sea otters, thinning each species’ populations out one-by-one. They are easy to identify because of their distinctive white and black colouring. It's gone. That's the New Zealand killer whale!' Increased killer whale predation is the likely cause of these declines. 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. NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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. 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 text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Pitman says it must have looked like a fishing line with fish on it — it looked like breakfast. Marine scientists suggest the Southern Resident orcas face problems centered on their diet. 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. It's still waiting to be tested. 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. But then they got a 12-hour quiet spell. Copyright © 2005 NPR. A group of ecologists says it solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. Although the future looks grim for the otters at the moment, there is some hope on the horizon. Still others are investigating what to do about killer whales feeding on sea otters in Alaska. All rights reserved. Lull for killer whales. The whales were smaller than other killer whales, and they had rounded heads and pointier fins. These patches were unusually small, in some cases almost nonexistent. (The sea otter is an endangered species). They are the largest dolphins. 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. In recent decades, several populations of killer whales have declined and some have become endangered. "But that was definitely the way to bring them to the boat.". "It's a big ocean, and it's a rough ocean. . Their ship at Cape Horn was trapped at anchor for eight days by howling weather. The mouth comes up, takes the sea otter, grabs it and gulps it down. NIELSEN: But it's not just whale-huggers who hate the orca hypothesis. First, Williams determines that the average orca needs to eat the equivalent of five to seven sea otters a day just to get by. Fig. And by the late 1990's, I'd see 'em three or four times a day. "This was a very different-looking group of killer whales," says Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ", It was a slow start. Williams says the answer turned out to be a simple one. K Pod K pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident killer whale community with only 17 members. 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. D killer whales globally they realized why the whales swam up to.. To an 80 % decline in the otter population isn ’ t growing as fast as killer whales thinning otter population by npr once was in... 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