Research shows Orca population in Puget Sound is dwindling

Research shows Orca population in Puget Sound is dwindling
SEATTLE -- New research reveals the number of the Orca population in Puget Sound is dwindling -- especially among reproductive age males.

"That's clear, they're not recovering," said Bruce Stedman, who heads-up the Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance.

He points to numbers from the Center for Whale Research and NOAA, which Stedman claims since 2009, the number of reproductive-age males is down 26 percent, and there are only 14 reproductive age male Orca left.

And he worries if those numbers don't get better soon, the result could be devastating.

"Slowly but surely, they would go extinct," Stedman said. "That's the worry."

Lynne Barre with NOAA says a combination of three causes threatens the Orca population: She says reproductive-age males need more calories, but there are fewer numbers of Chinook salmon for them to eat. More and more Ocra tour boats increase stress levels in Orca, and when an Orca goes hungry, its body consumes its own blubber, which is full of toxins PCBs and DDTs.

Just this summer, a 25-year-old male Orca went missing and is presumed dead. Research released in September showed a slight decline in reproductive-age females too.

Barre says NOAA is watching for new salmon runs along the newly un-dammed Elwha River to help feed the male Orca, but cleaning-up polluted Puget Sound is a tougher challenge.

"There should be a place where there is more space for them to have quiet some of the time," Stedman said. NOAA discussed creating an Orca safe zone in the Sound a few years ago, but the plan ultimately fizzled-out

Stedman's group is now fighting anew for an Orca safe zone in the Sound, but there's also this glimmer of hope: The research also shows an 66-percent increase in the number of juvenile male Orca.

NOAA says that could mean in a year or two, the population could be OK, but nobody will know until then.