PRESS RELEASE: Killer whale strandings are always bad news.
However, a new paper by SeaDoc scientists and collaborators shows that each orca's death also is an opportunity to improve our understanding of the species and aid in the recovery of endangered populations.
This first-of-its-kind study analyzed live and dead killer whale strandings in the North Pacific Ocean dating back to 1925. It showed that very few orcas that die wash ashore – just 10 per year over the entire North Pacific Ocean. While each rare stranding is a chance to gather a huge amount of data, until recently less than 1 out of every 50 dead killer whales was thoroughly examined.
That changed in 2004 when SeaDoc's Joe Gaydos and Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist from British Columbia, created a killer whale necropsy protocol that helped stranding responders maximize the amount of information learned from each orca carcass.
Thanks to this and dedicated funding from NOAA to analyze samples, since 2004 scientists have performed necropsies on 1 out of every 3 killer whales that strand in the North Pacific – a remarkable 1600% increase in effort. The data collected – on causes of death, contaminants, and genetics – are already being used to help recover endangered killer whale populations.
Visit www.seadocsociety.org/killer-whale-strandings for a link to the full manuscript and quotes from the study authors.
Photo by Jeff Hogan