Health update for endangered Southern Resident killer whales

Scientists from NOAA’s Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center are currently working in collaboration with SR3: SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer to collect aerial photogrammetry images in an ongoing study to monitor the growth and body condition of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. These data support management actions to ensure an adequate supply of their Chinook salmon prey. In the shorter term, the aerial perspective also offers important insights into the health of individual whales. Earlier this month, this collaborative study provided key information on the condition of an ailing young whale, J50 The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer , and her mother, J16. In recent days, the photogrammetry team have documented another SRKW individual to be in notably poorer body condition compared to recent years. K25, a 27-year old adult male has been documented in aerial photographs since 2008. This year, his body profile is thinner than previous years (see images below). This change coincides with the loss of his mother, K13 in 2017, and likely reflects the challenges he faces without her help in capturing and sharing prey. Males rely on help from their mothers, and other family members, to meet their increased energy demands, and long term demographic monitoring The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer has shown that adult males have an increased mortality risk following their mother’s death, highlighting K25’s current vulnerability.

Offering a more hopeful outlook for this group, aerial images collected this week have also documented K27, K25’s sister, to be heavily pregnant, along with a number of other females in all three pods (J, K and L) within the population. Whales carry their baby weight below the ribcage, just like humans, enabling later-term pregnancies to be reliably documented from aerial images of body shape (see images below). Unfortunately, there is currently a high rate of reproductive failure The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer in this population, and K27 has been documented to have aborted a fetus The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer in recent years. Follow-up monitoring by our colleagues at the Center for Whale Research The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer will determine the success of these pregnancies.

For more information contact John.Durban@noaa.gov.

K25
Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018 (right); the recent image shows him in poorer condition with a noticeably thinner body profile. Image in 2016 by NOAA/SWFSC and Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute and in 2018 by NOAA/SWFSC and SR3, both obtained using an unmanned drone piloted non-invasively >100ft above the whales under NMFS research permit #19091.

Pregnant Killer Whales
Aerial images of pregnant adult female Southern Resident killer whales, documented by their increased width at mid-body. Left shows J17 approximately one month prior to giving birth in 2015; image by NOAA/SWFSC and Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute; right shows K27 (top whale) in September 2018, with her increased body width contrasting to that of her juvenile son (K44, bottom); image by NOAA/SWFSC and SR3. Both images obtained using an unmanned drone piloted non-invasively >100ft above the whales under NMFS research permits 16163 and 19091.
Last modified: 9/25/2018