While Granny, the famous 103-year-old orca, shocked us all with her vitality when she was spotted swimming along with her pod along the coast of Canada, her health -- and that of her family -- may be compromised. A new study of over a decade of research found that the southern resident orca whales, of which Granny's pod and two other pods are members, carry high levels of banned pollutants like PCBs.
The study, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also found other human impacts on the population -- for instance, the whales, which eat chinook salmon and halibut, hunt less, travel more and call louder when more ships are nearby. Even worse, the animals are struggling to recover from a sharp decline in numbers during the 1970s, when dozens of the whales were captured for marine parks like SeaWorld. There are an estimated 82 in the population now.
Though the findings seem bleak, the researchers are hopeful about the wealth of new information the study has yielded, particularly knowledge about where the whales spend their winters, which was previously unknown.
"We are in a much better situation with the information we have now," said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries Seattle branch chief, according to AP.
What's worrisome, though, is that it's still unknown just how high contamination levels impact a whale's health and reproduction. The population is currently listed as endangered, thanks to a push from local conservationists in the past two decades.