LOCAL NEWS

Southern Resident orcas hit Puget Sound absence record in 2021

Jan 11, 2022, 1:44 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2022, 6:06 am
Orca pod swims in front of Colman Pool. (Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation via Flickr)...
Orca pod swims in front of Colman Pool. (Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation via Flickr)
(Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation via Flickr)

This past year was a bit of a roller coaster for the Southern Resident orcas.

With just 102 days spent in the Puget Sound in 2021, the orcas were in Washington waters fewer days than any other year on record.

“2021 was a record-breaking year as far as Southern Resident killer whale absence from the Salish Sea,” said Erin Gless, director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

This means it has been hard for researchers to determine how the Southern Resident orcas are doing, because they are simply not being observed.

Boaters asked to give space, slow down to help pregnant orcas in J-pod

The hope is that the orcas have been off the coast of Vancouver Island where they may have been able to find more Chinook salmon, their main food source.

However, while they do appear a little more robust than other years, their numbers are still at the lowest they’ve been in decades — the result of years of starvation as they struggle to get enough Chinook in the Puget Sound.

At last observation, three orcas were in late-stage pregnancy — the final six months of an 18-month gestation period. But while it gives researchers hope that three are pregnant, there is no guarantee of a healthy calf.

“What many folks don’t realize is that each year, we identify animals that are pregnant, and each year, sadly, they lose pregnancies,” Gless said. “And so, just because they get pregnant doesn’t mean that they actually carry that calf to term.”

Unfortunately, because of starvation, miscarriages are common. The rate of miscarriage can be as high as one in two, Gless said. And after birth, orca babies have a hard time surviving the first two years of life, as seen when Talequah lost her newborn calf and carried it with her for weeks in 2018.

No calves have been born seen since the three orcas were determined to be pregnant in September. Still, the fact that they were healthy enough to become pregnant is a good sign of health.

“Just because they’re pregnant doesn’t mean they’re having a calf successfully, but it means they’re pregnant. That’s the first step,” Gless said. “And so you have to celebrate every little victory.”

Taking action for Southern Resident orcas in the Legislature

Salmon recovery — and by extension, orca recovery — is expected to be a major theme in the new session of the Legislature, which began this week.

“This session is going to be really heavily focused on salmon — salmon, salmon, salmon,” Gless said. “And we’re very happy that that is getting the attention that it deserves.”

Governor Inslee proposed more than $180 million for salmon recovery in his budget, in the hopes of building back up the orcas’ food supply. This is showing up in several bills already, including those aimed at salmon habitat recovery or commercial fishing regulation.

“It is our firm belief that that is the number one thing that is affecting Southern Resident killer whale health right now, is a lack of salmon,” Gless said.

Gless said we may also see legislation this year to regulate noise from large vessels, such as ferries and cargo ships. That underwater noise can keep orcas from finding what little salmon there is by interfering with their use of echolocation, their way of detecting food.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here

Local News

trash...
MyNorthwest Staff

Kent seeks refunds for missed trash pickups as collection resumes for Western Washington

Trash collection worker solidarity strikes ended Tuesday for Western Washington as Republic Services ratifies a new contract with Teamsters.
21 hours ago
COVID-19 deaths, Snohomish County...
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

‘Occupancy is virtually 100%’: Just one available ICU bed in all of Snohomish County

As of Tuesday morning, there is only one intensive care bed available in all of Snohomish County, as hospitals continue to feel the strain.
21 hours ago
King County COVID...
Nick Bowman

King County COVID cases finally trending down, but ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’

After soaring to record numbers in January, COVID-19 cases in King County appear to finally be trending in a downward direction.
21 hours ago
Rumors camps...
Nick Bowman

UW expert: False rumors about forced quarantine for unvaccinated were ‘strategically amplified’

Rumors claiming that the state would soon be setting up forced quarantines for the unvaccinated spread like wildfire in recent weeks.
21 hours ago
vaccination...
MyNorthwest Staff

New mass COVID vaccination site opens in Snohomish County

A new indoor COVID-19 vaccination clinic opens at the Everett Mall on Tuesday, and Snohomish County says a mass testing site is coming soon.
21 hours ago
Washington ferries...
MyNorthwest Staff

Washington ferries move ‘most routes’ to alternate schedules amid ongoing crew shortages

Washington state ferries have continued to deal with delays, staffing shortages, and reduced routes to kick of the new year.
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
Southern Resident orcas hit Puget Sound absence record in 2021