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Orca pregnant again: Seattle Times article featuring Center for Conservation Biology research

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 - 11:15 to Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 11:15
Tahlequah is pregnant again.
The mother orca raised worldwide concern when she carried her dead calf 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, almost exactly two years ago. Now, she has another chance at motherhood, scientists have learned.
Down to a population of just 72 whales, every baby counts for southern resident orcas. And their chances for successful pregnancies are not good. About two-thirds of all southern resident pregnancies are typically lost, researcher Sam Wasser of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington has found. Stress from hunger due to lack of salmon is linked to the whales’ poor reproductive success, according to his research.
BONUSDeborah Giles, from the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, is quoted in this Gizmodo Earther article on the threat to orca survival.
“It’s always good news when they’re pregnant,” Giles said. “I’m hopeful for J35.”

Giles was clear, though, that she is feeling “cautious optimism.” Unfortunately, the reality may be that these pregnancies wind up being another bunch of painful losses for the population. Giles said many of the whales are “puny,” which is not a great indicator for their overall health.

“It’s easy to celebrate a pregnancy, but the fact is that it’s quite possible this won’t result in a healthy live birth,” she said.

The health of whales is tied to their growth. That’s why scientists at SEA and SR3 are using drones to photograph and study the orcas, a method of observation that’s also less obtrusive than others. Through this assessment, they’ve seen enough changes in the body size of some of the females of the pod to recognize that they’re pregnant. What the whales need now is plenty of food and space. Some advocates have been calling on the state and federal governments to restore salmon to the lower Snake River in the Pacific Northwest to help give these orcas the nutrients they need.

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