Now deemed “resident transients,” mammal-eating orcas are becoming familiar visitors to northwest waters.
"I remember Dr. John Ford (head of the Cetacean Research Program at the Pacific Biological Station) telling me at least 10 years ago that by this time we’d start seeing an influx of transient killer whales in the Salish Sea, and he was right,” explained Capt. Mark Malleson, of Prince of Whales Whale Watching.
Scientists and whale watchers report that a boom in the pinniped population -- seals and sea lions --means a set table for the orcas.
And it’s not just pinnipeds they prey on.
In early April, a Pacific Whale Watching Association crew even reported a young transient killer whale attacking two 40-ton gray whales in Puget Sound.
“They’re not so ‘transient’ anymore,” Michael Harris, Executive Director of PWWA, said.
PWWA reports the orcas, also called Bigg's killer whale T60D, are all business at mealtime, coming onto the scene swiftly, in small groups and without a sound.
About 320 individually identified transient killer whales swim along the West Coast of North America.
The seeming increase of prey resources for the “resident transient” orcas are a contrast to 84 endangered wild Southern Resident orcas, who face declining salmon supplies as they rebuild their ranks.
“As we say, if you’ve got fish, you’ve got blackfish -- the rezzies (Southern Resident orcas) -- and since we’ve got lots of seals and sea lions now, we’ve got the Bigg’s,” Harris said.
“And even though the transient killer whales carry the highest load of toxins of any marine mammal on the planet, even higher than the resident orcas, they seem to be doing pretty well. Fat whales, lots of babies, no gender imbalance in the calves, behavior that indicates the population is thriving. It’s proof that if we get food in the water for these orcas, we can buy some time to deal with these other threats.”
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