Whale researchers who track the small endangered population of Puget Sound orcas say three whales are believed dead or missing since this summer. The Center for Whale Research says, as of Friday, there are only 80 animals. Two females and a 10-month old calf are believed gone.
The center's senior scientist, Ken Balcomb, says the orcas are struggling because they don't have enough food. When that happens, he says they burn the fat in their blubber, where toxic chemicals such as PCBs are concentrated.
‘This is what whales have been designed to do, just to get through lean periods. But the problem is now, that fat is toxic to them and their baby and the milk they give to the baby,” Balcomb said.
He and others say it's time to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River as the best opportunity to restore salmon runs and save the orcas.
Researchers have said a primary factor for the orca population decline is a lack of food for the killer whales, which generally prey on Chinook salmon passing through the San Juan Islands. The whales have a strong preference for Chinook, typically larger and fatter fish, but they will eat other species of salmon and even other fish sometimes.
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