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Pregnant But Critically Endangered: Three Killer Whales Could Be the Last Hope of Saving Their Species

Fingers crossed it works out.

three whales swimming
Credit: GRID-Arendal/ Flickr

Scientists in Washington State believe three endangered killer whales are now pregnant, meaning they could play an important role in ensuring the species avoid becoming extinct.

It’s upsetting to imagine these powerful mammals ceasing to exist within our lifetime, but the threat has reached a critical point. The breakthrough discovery was made by researchers in British Columbia who hope the three pregnant females will help move the species further from the edge of extinction, even if only by a relatively small margin.

According to the Independent, we have the work of aerial drone research to thank as this allowed the scientists to make the exciting discovery. The research team consisted of a husband and wife team, Holly Fearnbach from SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research, and Dr John Durban from Southall Environmental Associates.

Credit: SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment/ YouTube

During their continual monitoring of the area, the duo found that the three killer whales to be in the late stages of pregnancy. Despite the promising discovery, we can’t get our hopes up just yet. Dr. Durban warned that hope for the recovery of the species remains ‘fragile’.

He continued: ‘Last year, we documented a number of other pregnant females, who were not successful in rearing calves. Unfortunately, this is not unusual, and we have documented a high rate of reproductive failures over the last decade.’

Providing an opposing perspective, Dawn Noren who is a Research Biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Centre feels more positive.

She explained: ‘When they have their calves, they will need a lot more food when they are producing milk to feed them. These three individuals have had previous calves so that’s a little reason to be optimistic. There are concerns with food consumption, of course.’

However, she did acknowledge that a lack of Chinook salmon, Orcas preferred food, is a risk. ‘When they have their calves, they will need a lot more food when they are producing milk to feed them. One-and-a-half to two times their normal prey requirements.’

Josh McInnes, who is a researcher at the University of British Columbia, talked about the fact that killer whales have high rates of infant mortality and miscarriages. But, there is still hope.

Credit: Public Domain Pictures

He told CBC News: ‘Having three calves being born that could possibly survive… it might just help a little. The first year is critical, killer whales have a 50-50 chance of survival, especially in the first year.’

On top of the threat related to the depleted fish supply, Dawn Noren also expressed concern about the impact of pollution in the marine environment. Within the Whales’ fat toxic pollutants can accumulate and then transfer to the offspring during nursing, causing neurological harm.

Fingers crossed these babies make it and can help to secure a more certain future for the killer whale species as a whole.

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