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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

A story about whales and humans

As well as working for WDC, I write books for young people. Stories; about the...
Risso's dolphin at surface

My lucky number – 13 years studying amazing Risso’s dolphins

Everything we learn about the Risso's dolphins off the coast of Scotland amazes us and...
Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whale (balaenoptera physalus) Three fin whales Gulf of California.

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...

Sad News for the Southern Residents

L120, the new calf who was just born in early September, has sadly gone missing and is assumed to have died.  L120 was the first new calf in the critically endangered Southern Resident population since 2012, and offered some hope for the group after two other members of L pod were confirmed missing and likely deceased this summer.

L120 was the third calf for Surprise! (L86), but was not seen with Mom in recent sightings by the Center for Whale Research, the organization that maintains the annual census of the Southern Residents.  Surprise’s second calf, Sooke (L112), died in February 2012 at 3 years old, and a necropsy revealed signs of severe acoustic trauma.

Southern Resident orcas are threatened by biocontamination – the accumulation of toxins and pollutants in their environment and subsequently in their bodies – and calves often bear the brunt of this danger as nursing mothers metabolize and offload their own toxic buildup through their milk.  Prey depletion is also a major threat to Southern Residents, and prey shortages can intensify the effects of other threats. Numbers of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon, have declined drastically in the Salish Sea and in rivers along the west coast in the last century.  Many salmon populations are endangered, threatened by habitat degradation and the loss of access to spawning grounds.  Increased vessel noise and traffic can cause acoustic masking for the orcas, making it more difficult to forage and locate prey.

 This heartbreaking loss brings the Southern Resident population down to just 78 individuals, 20 members less than their peak count in 1995, and 10 fewer than when they were added to the Endangered Species List in 2005.  To help these beautiful and iconic whales recover, we must address the threats on multiple fronts – help restore salmon populations and habitat, reduce the amount of toxins both already in and entering our oceans, and minimize stress from vessel noise and traffic.  The amplifying effect of each threat upon the others means that there is no easy fix or single problem to solve.  It’s a complicated battle, but one worth fighting so we can give the next new calf their best chance at survival.