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Exploring the Discovery of a New Oceanic Orca Population with Josh McInnes

How To Protect The Ocean

Release Date: 03/25/2024

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Andrew Lewin interviews Josh McInnes from the University of British Columbia about his groundbreaking research on killer whales. They discuss Josh's work on transient orca populations and the discovery of a potential new orca population in oceanic waters. Learn about Josh's background, including his experience working on whale watching boats and delivering lectures on orcas. Dive into the reasons behind Josh pursuing a master's degree and explore the fascinating world of orca research and conservation.

Tune in for an insightful look at orcas and the exciting discoveries in marine science!

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josh-mcinnes-69236197/

Follow a career in conservation: https://www.conservation-careers.com/online-training/ Use the code SUFB to get 33% off courses and the careers program.
 

Discovery of a Potential New Oceanic Population of Killer Whales

The podcast episode highlighted a significant observation regarding the potential discovery of a new oceanic population of killer whales. The observation dates back to 1997 when a large herd of female sperm whales was encountered 200 kilometers off the California coast. Renowned cytologist Bob Pittman observed these sperm whales being attacked by a group of 35 unknown killer whales, exhibiting cookie-cutter bite marks, indicating a unique and unidentified population.

This initial observation led to further research into these unknown killer whales. Subsequent fieldwork off the California and Oregon coasts revealed more interactions with these mysterious killer whales that did not align with the typical descriptions of resident or transient killer whale populations in the area. These findings have sparked the development of a potential new oceanic population of killer whales.

The significance of this discovery lies in shedding light on previously unknown or poorly understood killer whale populations. Understanding the presence and behavior of these new populations is crucial for conservation efforts and marine ecosystem management. By identifying and studying these unknown killer whales, researchers can gain insights into their ecological roles, interactions with other species, and potential threats they may face. This information is vital for developing targeted conservation strategies to protect these newly discovered populations and ensure the overall health of marine ecosystems.

  • The designation of protective status for orcas in the state of Oregon, in addition to federal protection, is crucial for emphasizing the need for conservation efforts at both state and federal levels. State-level protection in Oregon signifies a proactive approach towards safeguarding the orca population within state waters, complementing existing federal protections. This dual protection ensures that orcas are safeguarded against various threats, including ship strikes, vessel noise, pollution, overfishing, and habitat degradation.

  • The state-level protection in Oregon is particularly significant due to the state's unique role in providing essential habitat for orcas, such as the Columbia River Chinook salmon population, which is crucial for the Southern resident killer whales. By designating orcas as protected species within state waters, Oregon can enforce regulations and management strategies to mitigate threats and ensure the conservation of these iconic marine mammals.

  • The collaboration between state and federal authorities in protecting orcas sets a precedent for effective conservation efforts that recognize the importance of addressing threats at multiple levels. By working together, state and federal agencies can coordinate conservation measures, share resources, and implement comprehensive strategies to protect orcas and their habitats. This integrated approach enhances the effectiveness of conservation initiatives and promotes the long-term sustainability of orca populations in Oregon and beyond.

  • Overfishing: Josh mentions that overfishing is a significant threat to killer whales, especially for populations like the Southern Resident killer whales that rely heavily on Chinook salmon for their diet. Declining fish stocks due to overfishing can lead to food scarcity for killer whales, impacting their energetic and caloric intake. This highlights the importance of sustainable fishing practices and effective fisheries management to ensure an adequate food supply for killer whales.

  • Vessel Noise: Another threat discussed during the interviewis vessel noise, which can disrupt the communication and hunting behaviors of killer whales. The increasing number of boats, including whale-watching vessels, can contribute to underwater noise pollution, affecting the ability of killer whales to navigate, communicate, and locate prey. Mitigation measures such as reducing vessel speed, implementing noise-reducing technologies, and establishing marine protected areas can help minimize the impact of vessel noise on killer whales.

  • Pollution: Josh also mentions the presence of pollutants in killer whales, including new toxins from sources like wildfires. Pollution can accumulate in the blubber and bodies of killer whales, affecting their endocrine systems and overall health. Addressing pollution sources, implementing stricter regulations on chemical discharges, and promoting ecosystem health can help reduce the exposure of killer whales to harmful pollutants and ensure their well-being.

  • Hatchery Salmon Quality: The quality of hatchery salmon is highlighted as a concern for killer whales, as hatchery fish may not provide the same nutritional value as wild salmon. If hatchery salmon outcompete wild salmon, killer whales may receive fewer nutrients from their primary food source, impacting their overall health and reproductive success. Ensuring the availability of high-quality wild salmon through habitat restoration, sustainable fisheries practices, and monitoring hatchery operations can support the dietary needs of killer whales.

In conclusion, the various threats faced by killer whales, including overfishing, vessel noise, pollution, and hatchery salmon quality, underscore the need for comprehensive conservation strategies. These strategies should focus on sustainable fisheries management, reducing anthropogenic disturbances, addressing pollution sources, and promoting the health of marine ecosystems to safeguard the well-being of killer whale populations.