69 Percent of Endangered Orca Pregnancies Fail… Is Overfishing to Blame?

After being declared endangered in 2005, the Southern Resident orca population has seen little recovery. In fact, more than two-thirds of these whales’ pregnancies fail, and a new study suggests the orcas are starving because of human activity.

While the study points to three contributing factors, including vessel noise and exposure to toxins, the lack of preferred prey, such as chinook (king) salmon, is believed to be the main cause of the orca population’s decline.

Chinook salmon, who compose roughly 80 percent of the whales’ diet, are a critically endangered species, and overfishing is one of the main reasons. Popular wild-caught fish, chinook salmon were added to the list of overfished species in 2015. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a report in 2013 warning of the impact salmon fishing has had on Southern Resident orca populations. Although the report expresses uncertainty about the long-term effects, it states that ending or reducing salmon fishing would have an immediate positive impact.

As of December 2016, the Southern Resident orca population had only 78 individuals, so the loss of even one pregnancy is devastating. This is but one animal species dealing with the impact of our exploitation of the world’s oceans.

Oceans are extremely complex ecosystems, so when one species declines, others suffer. For instance, Atlantic puffins on the Shetland Islands depend on sand eels to survive. Once sand eels were overfished, puffin numbers dramatically declined. When herring is overfished, cod populations fall. Many fish species and their predators are now endangered or face extinction because of overfishing.

The best thing we can do for all marine animals is to refuse to support an industry that consistently disrupts the balance of nature’s ecosystems and puts species at risk for extinction.

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