Orcas

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 6, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

NOAA Fisheries

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.

Boats have to stay 200 yards away from the Northwest’s endangered resident killer whales. But what if one of those boaters launches an aerial drone to take better pictures from closer up?

It's not a theoretical question. And the answer is not as clear as law enforcement would like.

A Washington state senator says he will try again in January to convince his colleagues to ban marine mammal shows. That announcement Monday came as SeaWorld said it will end orca whale performances at its San Diego theme park next year.