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Wasser lab on orca pregnancies in PLOS ONE

Monday, October 2, 2017 - 09:00

Writing in 1916, conservationist John Muir noted that "there is not a 'fragment' in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself." A century later, in the Pacific Northwest, land managers, tribal leaders, environmental stewards, lawmakers, and business interests are locked in a fight over which harmonious units and relative fragments can be rearranged to satisfy all parties.

But while they grapple over the details of regulations and policy changes, and the various perceived and demonstrated economic effects any such legislation may have, whales continue to miscarry at an unprecedented rate.

In the salty waters off the coast of Seattle, the region's orca population is spontaneously miscarrying the majority of its pregnancies, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Washington, published inPLoS One. By studying the feces of orcas through the use of detection dogs, the researchers tracked the whales' hormones over time. Their findings were stark: Sixty-nine percent of all detectable orca pregnancies ended with miscarriage; 33 percent of those pregnancies failed in the late stages of gestation or immediate postpartum.

While the temperature of the ocean, boating, and commercial shipping are often looked to as identifiable reasons for orca stress, one of the most important places to look for answers may actually be on land, where the human footprint has choked off the primary food source of the Southern Resident killer whale population—the Chinook salmon.


Read the full article in PS Magazine.
(Photo: Valery Hahce/AFP/Getty Images)

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