Technology & Science

New study by B.C., California looks at orca deaths

Researchers are learning a lot about the lives of orcas from the deaths of orcas, thanks to a team of experts from British Columbia and the United States.

Experts test killer whale carcasses to understand lives of the endagered species

A killer whale surfaces through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec, on Tuesday Jan. 8, 2013. (Marina Lacasse/Canadian Press)

Researchers are learning a lot about the lives of orcas from the deaths of orcas, thanks to a team of experts from British Columbia and the United States.

Though killer whale carcasses have been found washed up on beaches around the North Pacific, few tests were being done to figure out why or how.

By the time southern resident killer whales were declared endangered in Canada and the United States, Stephen Raverty, of the B.C. government's Marine Ecosystem Health Network, and Joseph Gaydos, of the University of California Davis' SeaDoc Society, had realized how little information was being gathered about the mammals.

Raverty and Gaydos came up with a necropsy checklist that was distributed to whale watchers from Russia to Japan, Alaska to Mexico, almost a decade ago.

They have now published their first study of the information gathered, in the journal Marine Mammal Science, looking at tests from 371 stranded whales dating as far back as 1925.

The tests have opened a window into the diseases and contaminants contributing to the decline of the marine mammals, and now Raverty and his colleagues in B.C. hope further study can help them help one of the ocean's bellwether species.   

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