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Scientists collect breath samples of an orca using a long pole with petri dishes attached at the end. Photo: Pete Schroeder

The Orca Docs: When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

This week we present “The Orca Docs,” a two-part series from our senior writer Christopher Dunagan. The series focuses on some of the issues related to proposed medical intervention for Puget Sound’s endangered orcas. The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in …

Toxic pollution accumulates in Puget Sound's salmon, spurring debate over recommended fish consumption rates. Chinook salmon fillets photographed by pui wong {as*q}. Cerative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Debate over water quality standards takes a new turn

Many people thought the issue of regulating toxic chemical discharges into Puget Sound was settled when the federal government forced Washington state to use stricter criteria, but the debate may be underway once again. By Christopher Dunagan An unlikely disagreement between state and federal authorities over water-quality standards has flared up again. Two years ago, …

Southern resident killer whale breaching. Image courtesy of NOAA

Orca task force releases recommendations

By Jeff Rice The governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force released its final report and recommendations today, focusing on three key threats to Puget Sound’s endangered orcas: Lack of food, disturbance from noise and vessel traffic, and toxic contaminants. In all, the report makes 36 recommendations for recovering the fast-declining orca population, which now stands at …

Killer whale with calf. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Task force narrows list of ideas to save killer whales from extinction

By Christopher Dunagan The term “no silver bullet” has been heard again and again as dozens of experts from throughout the state examine ideas that might help avoid extinction for Puget Sound’s beloved orcas. The Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, created by the governor, is considering short-term actions — such as increasing hatchery production …

J16 surfacing near Saturna Island, August 2012. Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/7730710932

For declining orcas, food is fate

The story of Puget Sound’s starving resident orcas has come into dramatic focus over the past two weeks. As the world watches an orca grieve for her dead calf, and tribes and federal agencies prepare to try to feed a dangerously emaciated three-year-old orca in Jpod, we look at how the lack of Chinook salmon …

Chinook salmon leaping at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/29739921130

New studies on emerging threats to salmon

Chemicals, disease and other stressors can increase a salmon’s chance of being eaten or reduce its ability to catch food. We wrap up our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project with a look at some of the lesser-known, but still significant factors contributing to salmon declines in the Salish Sea. Read the story in …

A harbor seal hunting anchovies. From Howe Sound Ballet video by Bob Turner: https://youtu.be/Ycx1hvrPAqc

Could anchovies and other fish take pressure off salmon and steelhead?

A recent influx of anchovies into Puget Sound may have saved some steelhead from predators, but researchers seek more evidence to prove the connection. Our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project continues with a look at these and other potential impacts from predators on the region’s salmon and steelhead. Read the story in …

Spring Chinook Salmon. Photo: Michael Humling, US Fish & Wildlife Service

Opening the black box: What’s killing Puget Sound’s salmon and steelhead?

An intensive research program in the U.S. and Canada is studying why so few salmon in the Salish Sea are returning home to spawn. They are uncovering a complex web of problems involving predators, prey and other factors that put salmon at risk as they migrate to the ocean. Puget Sound Institute senior writer Christopher …