New peril for gray whale survival? Predatory orcas spotted in Baja calving lagoon
A gray whale is seen by a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol airplane after arriving at the port of Rosarito, on Sept. 1, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aaron Lewis/Released)
The southern resident population of gray whales are in danger of being decimated due to the increasing impact from predators. But researchers don’t know exactly how much of a threat the population is facing from the increasing number of predatory marine mammals and whether the species is able to survive or adapt to the new circumstances.
That’s according to a report published recently by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that is based on surveys of marine mammals in the Caribbean over the past 12 years.
“Although many marine species are sensitive to the presence of humans, marine mammals in the Caribbean have not been studied as extensively,” explained William Reardon, a naturalist based at the National Park Service (NPS) in San Diego, Calif. “We’ve long had the idea of the northern whale watching industry, which has been present since the mid to late 1800s, but less attention has been given to the southern whale watching industry.”
The southern whale watching industry involves the taking the waters off the coast of southern Florida and the Bahamas, with boaties bringing the animals to the National Marine Sanctuary at the Florida Keys, where they are fed at SeaWorld Orlando.
“The whales that we don’t see are the ones that are most vulnerable,” said Reardon. “We have been able to track the whales for years and there is no information on how many are in the population, how many have come on and off the boat for feeding, how many have been on and off the boat for other purposes and how many have been on and off the boat for other reasons.”
The population has a large percentage of orphaned whales and a much smaller number of whales that have made it to the sanctuary. Scientists have no idea how long a whale can survive off the shores of the Keys, let alone the southern Gulf of Mexico.
While the number of whales in the southern Gulf has risen over