NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have partnered to produce a list of the west coast Chinook salmon stocks most important to the whale’s survival. This list comes as a part of a special action plan by NOAA to address the three primary threats to the southern resident killer whales: Chemical contaminants, vessel traffic, and lack of prey. The salmon, themselves endangered, are the preferred food source for the whales, and identifying the salmon runs—which include Sacramento River and San Joaquin River runs—that most overlap with the range of the southern residents could be crucial to their eventual recovery. “Those fish support not only the commercial fishery but the whales that migrate north after they leave the Golden Gate,” says Michael Milstein of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “We know [orcas] are highly intelligent and they may be handing down information through generations as to where to look for salmon.” In July, marine biologists across the world watched in fascination–and heartbreak–as a female southern resident killer whale refused to abandon her newborn calf for days after it had perished, probably as a result of the mother’s malnutrition. “These whales are truly a ‘West Coast’ population,” Milstein explains. “It’s not about any one stock being more important than the others, but rather the whole range providing them with variety as they travel through areas where they have historically found plenty.”

Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss
Photo: John Durban (NOAA Fisheries/Southwest Fisheries Science Center), Holly Fearnbach (SR3: SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute)
 

Help may be on the way for critically endangered southern resident killer whales. NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have partnered to produce a list of the west coast Chinook salmon stocks most important to the whale’s survival. This list comes as a part of a special action plan by NOAA to address the three primary threats to the southern resident killer whales: Chemical contaminants, vessel traffic, and lack of prey. The salmon, themselves endangered, are the preferred food source for the whales, and identifying the salmon runs—which include Sacramento River and San Joaquin River runs—that most overlap with the range of the southern residents could be crucial to their eventual recovery. “Those fish support not only the commercial fishery but the whales that migrate north after they leave the Golden Gate,” says Michael Milstein of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “We know [orcas] are highly intelligent and they may be handing down information through generations as to where to look for salmon.” In July, marine biologists across the world watched in fascination--and heartbreak--as a female southern resident killer whale refused to abandon her newborn calf for days after it had perished, probably as a result of the mother’s malnutrition. “These whales are truly a ‘West Coast’ population,” Milstein explains. “It’s not about any one stock being more important than the others, but rather the whole range providing them with variety as they travel through areas where they have historically found plenty.”

About the author

Michael Hunter Adamson was born and partly raised in the Bay Area and spent his childhood balancing adventure with mischief. As an equally irresponsible adult he has worked for The Nature Conservancy, the arts and education nonprofit NaNoWriMo, taught English in Madrid-based High School equivalent, and volunteers with The Marine Mammal Center. As a writer for Estuary and AcclimateWest, Michael employs his love for nature and his interest in people to help tell the unfolding story of the living Earth.