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Distinctive orca whale populations and conserving whales

Colleen Weiler, Rekos Fellow for Ocean Conservation at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), spoke with Rob about her research and experiences with orcas on the Pacific Coast.  Colleen is based out of Oregon and is most familiar with the orcas of Puget Sound. While all orcas belong to one species of whale, they have very distinct types called “ecotypes” and unique populations.  Colleen steps us through fish-eating populations: Southern, Northern, and Alaskan residents. These groups tend to stay close to preferred runs of salmon and other fish. California waters typically see Transient or Bigg’s orcas.  These are marine-mammal-eating orcas that range further in search of dolphins, seals, sea lions, and even the calves of other whales.  Colleen tells of witnessing a humpback whale intercede between orcas and a Steller sea lion.  Much less is known of orca populations found in warmer waters, like the Gulf of Mexico.

WDC (whales.org) is working to save orcas by urging people to be selective when eating salmon.  Chinook salmon is preferred by orcas, probably because it is the largest and fattiest.  Chinook are also threatened – leave the Chinook for orcas.  Toxins are a big problem, especially those like PCBs and DDT that bio-accumulate in fat tissues and are transferred from mother to calves.  Colleen urges us not to pollute by spreading too much fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides on lands that are in watersheds.

Finally, we invited listeners to speak out against the House Bill 3133: “Streamlining Environmental Approvals.” This bill creates a gaping loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing oil and gas companies to conduct seismic testing over vast areas with very oversight of their impact on marine mammals, covers up long-term and cumulative impact, and removes Endangered Species Act protections for endangered populations.  Find out more about this harmful bill and what you can do to help stop it at http://us.whales.org/wdc-in-action/urgent-marine-mammal-protection-act-in-jeopardy

Colleen Weiler is the Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation at Whale and Dolphin Conservation.  The goal of the Fellowship is to identify effective conservation strategies and protective measures for orca populations around the world.  Her work is primarily focused on orca populations of the Eastern North Pacific, especially the critically endangered Southern Resident orca community, and developing an ecosystem approach to the protection and recovery of orcas.  Colleen earned a Master of Science in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University and has been active in the marine mammal field for over a decade, in a variety of roles – from rescue and rehabilitation to fieldwork, policy, and conservation.