This Wild Orca Family Is Starving — But There's A Simple Way To Help
They've already been through so much.
A group of orca families living around Puget Sound is in danger.
Known as the southern resident killer whales (composed of the J, K and L pods), there are fewer than 80 of these orcas left because they can't find enough food. In 2006, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the southern residents as endangered.
But since then, not enough has been done to help save them, according to Defenders of Wildlife.
That's because dams along the Snake and Columbia rivers - one of the most heavily dammed river systems in the world - are restricting the natural movement of Chinook salmon, and that's what these orcas need to survive.
"Four dams on the lower Snake River are driving all remaining Snake River salmon toward extinction," Quinn Read, Northwest program representative for Defenders, said. "Since the dams were completed, these salmon populations have plummeted by more than 90 percent."
Not only that, pollution in the waters of the Puget Sound tend to get stored in the blubber of the orcas, and when they go hungry, the toxins are released, making the animals literally sick from the inside.
This is what apparently happened to one orca, J28, who died in October of 2016, after the birth of her child in December 2015.
"J28 was noted to be losing body condition in January 2016, presumably from birthing complications, and by July was clearly emaciated," the Center for Whale Research (CWR) wrote. "If her carcass is ever found, an examination of her ovaries may reveal how many ovulations/pregnancies she actually had, as well as her proximate cause of death (probably septicemia)." Septicemia is blood poisoning.
The southern resident pods were also depleted by SeaWorld, which, along with other marine parks, took an entire generation of baby orcas captive in the 1970s.
The death of J28 came at the end of a slew of premature deaths in the pods over the summer, all presumed due to toxins and lack of food.
The miscarriage rate for this group of orca families is well over 50 percent, which can be linked to low food supply. The future doesn't look bright for them unless something changes.
People are calling for the dams to be breached to help Chinook salmon populations recover, which, in the long run, would help the southern resident orcas survive.