Each year a population update report is issued by DFO's cetacean research staff based on analysis of identification photographs that they and other researchers took the previous year. The recently-released 2010 population report includes several new calves. In the last newsletter we told you that Nahwitti (A56) has had her first calf, A97, and Nodales (A51) has had her second calf, A98. Also new mothers are Simoom (A34) with her sixth calf A96, Fisher (D17) with her second calf D26, and Tatchu (G52) has had her first calf G94. These calves will not be availabe for adoption for another year
Amidst the good news, sadly we also say goodbye to a couple old friends. Whidbey (G45) and Principe (R7) have both been declare dead.
There haven't been many sightings of northern resident killer whales this March, and unusual visitors in the Johnstone Strait area may be partially to blame. A group of 12 offshore killer whales spent about 5 days in the Johnstone Strait area near the end of March. Offshore killer whales are a distinct assemblage of killer whales that, as their name implies, spend most of their time on the outer part of the continental shelf. Researchers have noticed that when offshores visit the coast, residents are absent. Either they move out of the area when offshores approach the coast, or offshores only approach when residents happen to be away.
It is with sad new that we announce Ruffles (J1), the oldest resident male killer whale, has been officially listed as missing by the Center for Whale Research. Ruffles is one of the most easily recognized whales in the southern resident community and has grabbed the hearts of everyone who has had the opportunity to view him. We will keep everyone posted on the outcome of his status.
In happier news, J pod was seen multiple times around San Juan Island and the southern Strait of Georgia. The whales have been spread out and spending time foraging. The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that the J17 matriline with all their young babies, Moby (J44), Star (J46) and Looker (J47) are all looking good.
Members of K pod were seen off the northwest Washington State coast about 15 km south of the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait in late March. K pod typically is not seen in the inside waters around this time of year.
L pod was also seen near the beginning of February in Monterey Bay, California. According to the Center for Whale Research, L pod appears to be keeping with their pattern of foraging up and down along the California coastline from January thru March.
Transients have been around regularly in March. On March 16th the T2C group including Tasu (T2C), Rocky (T2C1) and Tumbo (T2C2), were seen in Haro Strait near the southern end of Vancouver Island traveling with the T18 group. Five days later on March 21st the T18 group, Esperanza (T18), Mooya (T19), Galiano (T19B) and Spouter (T10C) were seen again approximately 500km north in Johnstone Strait. The T10 group, Langara (T10), Siwash (T10B) and Bones (T10C), has also been seen repeatedly in the Johnstone Strait area in March. They were seen on March 16th and March 22nd traveling with two other females, T26 and T26A.
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Adoption Program Update....
The 2009 killer whale babies have joined the program!
2009 was an exciting year of new arrivals for the northern and southern resident killer whales. Ten new babies were born to females in the killer whale adoption program. We are excited to announce that all ten calves survived their first year of life and have recently been added to the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program. The new babies are: Fantome (A91) born in 2009, is the second calf of Misty (A62); Sunday (A92) born in 2009, is the first calf of Eclipse (A67); Cypress (A93) born in 2009, is the third calf of Blinkhorn (A54); Mystery (A94) born in 2009, is the fourth calf of Kelsey (A24); Fern (A95) born in 2009, is the first calf of Midsummer (A69); Blackfly (C29) born in 2009, is the first calf of Fin (C23); Sweeper (C30) born in 2009, is the sixth calf of Koeye (C10); Naden (C31) born in 2009, is the first calf of Virago (C19); Moby (J44) born in 2009, is the third calf of Princess Angeline (J17); Star (J46) born in 2009, is the first calf of Polaris (J28); and Tumbo (T2C2) born in 2005, is the second calf of Tasu (T2C).
Visit the family matrilines in the 'Meet the Whales' section of our website to view the family trees.
Killer whales - Apex predators
Killer whales are top predators in the ocean food chain - attacking and feeding on prey ranging in size from herring to blue whales. However, they are not opportunistic feeders and individual killer whales tend to have very specialized diets and do not feed on all prey that are available to them. Some research is providing evidence that killer whales may actually limit their prey populations.
Killer whales can be described as apex predators - predators that have no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain. As apex predators, killer whales would be expected to strongly influence the structure of marine communites by impacting the abundance, distribution, behaviour and evolution of their prey. This is the theory behind an ongoing collaborative study conducted by Vancouver Aquarium research scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, NOAA research scientist Dr. John Durban and DFO research scientists Graeme Ellis and Dr. John Ford.
Photo: John Durban
In our last newsletter we told you about a group of transient killer whales near Unimak Island, Alaska that prey on grey whale calves. Researchers estimated that transient killer whales take, as prey, up to one third of the eastern North Pacific grey whale calf production every year. This spiked the interest of researchers to investigate the impact killer whale predation may be having on the grey whale population and how or what the grey whales are doing to compensate. To find some answers, Graeme, Lance and both Johns made a field trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island this March and put satellite tags on three migrating grey whales to track their migration route. Researchers are hoping that by identifying some of the specific details of the migration route they will be able to answer various questions - such as: do the grey whales stay close to shore along their migration route, do they stop and feed and if so where and for how long, and what travel strategies do they use to get past transient killer whales?
In the News....
Impact of air pollution on killer whales
A newly-published study reveals the impact of vessel exhaust on B.C.'s killer whales. The two and a half year study conducted by former UBC department of Zoology graduate student Cara Lachmuth and supervised by Vancouver Aquarium research scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard provides valuable insights on one of the threats faced by this iconic species.
"While training at UBC's outdoor pool one summer, I noticed that smoke from a nearby BBQ settled over the surface of the water and made breathing very unpleasant - even more so than cycling in heavy traffic," said Lachmuth. "The experience made me wonder if the situation was similar for whales followed by boats, which generally produce more emissions than cars."
Lachmuth used a pollution dispersion model to predict killer whale exposure to boat exhaust and used the results to determine potential health effects. The study found that when boats operate in proximity to whales, their emissions have the potential to cause adverse health effects. The findings suggest that current whale watching guidelines are usually effective in limiting pollutant exposure to levels at or just below those at which measurable adverse health effects would be expected in killer whales. To reduce killer whale exposure to exhaust Lachmuth recommended that vessels position themselves on the downwind side of whales, keep the number of vessels within 800m of whales to 20 and limit the amount of time spent viewing the whales.
Southern resident killer whales in British Columbia and Washington are exposed to heavy vessel traffic. "What made this study particularly important is that whales don't have sinuses to filter air the way terrestrial mammals do and they have no sense of smell to help them detect - and hence possibly avoid - engine exhaust," explained Barrett-Lennard. "They also spend much of their time diving, which increases pressure in their lungs and causes air pollutants to enter their blood - and reach their vital organs - more rapidly than for non-diving animals."
News article: Vancouver Sun
Funds from the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program supported Cara Lachmuth's study of the impact of air pollution on killer whales and supports Dr. Barrett-Lennard's work on the impact of killer whale predation on grey whales.