Scientists recently found that as many as half of the world’s killer whale populations may not survive the next 100 years because of PCB pollution. These patches were unusually small, in some cases almost nonexistent. First, Williams determines that the average orca needs to eat the equivalent of five to seven sea otters a day just to get by. They live in pods. " he says. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and other species of dolphin. New Type Of Killer Whale Found Swimming In Southern Ocean The notion that there might be some new kind of killer whale emerged in 1955, when photos from New Zealand showed a … NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a new development among sea otter populations off the coast of Alaska. SCIENCE. They use these sounds to help travel underwater. The mouth comes up, takes the sea otter, grabs it and gulps it down. NIELSEN: Williams is part of a team that first observed these sneak attacks seven years ago when they were studying the otter die-off along the Aleutian Islands. Question Sheet: Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales. Populations of mammal-eating transient orcas, gray whales and humpback whales are increasing. Share this: Facebook; Twitter; Reddit; Google Classroom; Email; Print; By Science News for Students. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally. And I said, 'That's it! Ms. WILLIAMS: Followed lastly by sea otters, which, you know, still give you calories, but it's going to take you a bit to fill up on them. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record. Different populations of killer whales make different vocalizations, and different pods within these populations may even have their own dialect. . A rare photo of "type D" killer whales off South Georgia island, located between South America and Antarctica, shows the whales' blunt heads and tiny white eye patches. "And you can imagine them thinking, 'Hey, where's our fish?' A group of ecologists says it has solved the mystery of Alaska's missing sea otters. Copyright © 2005 NPR. If there were more fish, they say, marine mammals and orcas would have plenty to eat. Scientists found extremely high PCB levels in the animals’ bodies. Increased killer whale predation is the likely cause of these declines. When the sea lion population crashed, they started fishing sea otters. This suggests that four killer whales, feeding exclusively on sea otters, could have driven the population into decline. Their ship at Cape Horn was trapped at anchor for eight days by howling weather. He also says the original idea that these orcas once ate the great whales can't be proven. affected. Terry Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, says that's because the killer whales eat them. "And I looked down, and there they were, the New Zealand killer whales," he recalls. Either way, the mystery killer whales of the Southern Ocean have been found. For Pitman, the hunt was on. Fig. And by the late 1990's, I'd see 'em three or four times a day. They are easy to identify because of their distinctive white and black colouring. (The sea otter is an endangered species). And a lot of people don't like hearing that. Killer whales, or Orcas (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales in the oceanic dolphin family. The chemicals were affecting their ability to reproduce. It lives in parts of the ocean near Antarctica — and it could be the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists. Approximately 2,500 killer whales live in the eastern North Pacific Ocean—home to the most well-studied killer whale populations. That's the New Zealand killer whale!' What kinds of other animals share the sea otters’ habitat? Since 1990, otter populations off the Aleutian islands have plummeted by as much as 80 percent. NOAA biologist Lisa Ballance, who's married to Pitman, was part of the team. Then, when seals became rare, the killer whales turned to sea lions. NIELSEN: Environmental groups say the orca paper does a disservice to the cause of conservation by diverting attention from what they say is the real problem in the Bering Sea: overfishing. Mr. DOUG DeMASTER (Director, Alaska Fisheries Science Center): This hypothesis is too simplistic, and it's not ready for the textbooks yet. All three pods uniting is referred to as a s uper pod. For the moment this debate is largely academic; nobody is seriously talking about killing orcas to protect otters, seals and sea lions. NIELSEN: DeMaster is director of the federal government's Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Credit: Weiss et al., “Modelling cetacean morbillivirus outbreaks in an endangered killer whale population,” Biological Conservation, 2020. Marine scientists suggest the Southern Resident orcas face problems centered on their diet. Orcas have mostly black skin with white patches. Sea otter numbers were stable from 1993 through 1997 in Clam Lagoon, whereas in Kuluk Bay they declined by 76%. It's one of those moments that biologists live for. All rights reserved. Courtesy of J.P. Sylvestre Scientists say they've found a mysterious type of killer whale that they've been searching for for years. Second, we evaluated the impact of killer whales on sea otter populations at Adak Island by contrasting otter population trends and sur- vival rates between Clam Lagoon, an area uniquely inaccessible to killer whales, and ad- jacent Kuluk Bay, an open coastal environment (Fig. Ms. WILLIAMS: And you end up with a whopping 300,000 sea otters in a single year potentially eaten by these animals. The domino effect reaches even farther. Killer Whale Predation on Sea Otters Linking Oceanic and Nearshore Ecosystems J. There are fewer fish available for them to eat, more noise in the water affecting their ability to find the fish, and more pollution in the water that impacts their health when they are not well fed. Serious scientists, like Doug DeMaster, don't think much of it either. NIELSEN: Williams says it's hard to overstate how much these findings upset people who all but worship killer whales. They are the largest dolphins. But sea otters living in the Bering Sea off Alaska probably think differently. ", There was no mistaking its peculiar look, says Ballance. The killer whale, also known as an orca (Orcinus orca), is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. He says the authors of the orca paper greatly overestimate the number of sea otters being eaten by the killer whales, partly because he's sure these killer whales are also eating lots of other things, like fish. Before reading: Describe a sea otter. Then she multiplies five to seven by 170, which is the estimated number of mammal-eating orcas living near the Aleutians. ", "There they were," Ballance recalls, for a moment at a loss for words. Williams says the answer turned out to be a simple one. The photograph above was taken on July 7, 2010. Other researchers are studying why California’s sea otters seem to have become more vulnerable to disease and parasites. Last year, he assembled a team to go to Cape Horn, in Chile, to look for what's now technically called the "type D" killer whale. They are found in all the world's oceans, from the cold of the Arctic to the tropical seas. 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