Actually this is a pretty hard question for a couple of reasons. It
depends on how we answer the question " what population of orca are we
talking about?". Which leads to another question which is "What exactly IS
a population of orca... anyway?". Sounds complicated? Well this is just
the start...there are biologists...there are panels of experts...there are
conferences...there are lawyers...it's not been pretty...but here is the
story so far, at least what I know about it...
As far as the population of killer whales worldwide goes...we don't really
know how the population is doing. This is because we do not have a very
good idea of what the world wide population of orca actually is. Orca live
all over the world and many are in places where they are quite hard to
study (like the Antarctic) or even find.
There are, however groups of killer whales in places where they can be
studied. And some of those groups have been studies very well. One of
those groups is in the southern part of the Pacific Northwest around Puget
Sound. There are also groups of whales in Southeastern Alaska, and Prince
William Sound as well as a group to the north of Puget sound. These groups
appear to live around these areas and are known as "resident" groups.
There are also groups of whales known as "Transient" whales that move
through these areas, but do not ap[pear to stay in one place long.
Still with me??? One of these groups...the one living in Puget Sound...has
been observed and counted since around the mid-1970's and since the mid to
late 90's the group has been getting smaller. These days that group is
about 20% smaller than it was at it's highest point. Keep in mind that
this is not all of the orca there are. In fact this group had just under
100 whales at the most. Also, during this time some of those other groups
were staying the same or increasing slowly. Still this is a scary loss and
if you do some math on the rate of loss you can calculate that this whole
group could disappear in about fifty to one hundred years (that is a little
more than one whale generation).
So there has been much discussion about what all of this means (the
conferences and the panels of experts). One suggestion was to declare this
group "endangered" under the Endangered species act. After a bit more
discussion the government decided not to do that because this group did not
meet the definition of a "population" and it is not clear the entire
population of orca (worldwide) is in the same trouble or would benefit from
the protection. Well...that is not the end of the story (I promised you
lawyers...) Conservation organizations threatened to sue the government if
the process was not begun to include these whales under the ESA. The
government had another think and changed it's mind and the review process
has started. Will the whales be listed as "endangered"?...we don't know
yet. What will happen to this group of whales? we don't know that yet
either. Why did this happen in the first place?...We are not sure about
that. There have been a lot of suggestions, ranging from the effects of
pollutants, to the effects of whale watching, to changes in the food web,
but so far the answers are not very clear. There are some good web sites
describing this whole thing and you can see how it is viewed both by
conservation organizations and the government...
The ASK archive also has some other information about this topic ...so
check that as well...
From: Lrrlashonda@aol.com [SMTP:Lrrlashonda@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2002 4:58 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Whale Population
Can you please tell me how killer whale's population dropped over the last
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