Genetic Research is the Next Step to Help Recover Endangered Orcas

Orcas are part of Washington’s identity. For millennia, they have been culturally and spiritually significant to coastal tribes and communities, and they are a keystone species in the Puget Sound marine ecosystem. Despite this enduring legacy, however, the local Southern Resident pods are among the most at-risk marine mammals in the world. Today, only 74 whales remain in this group.

A new partnership between NOAA Fisheries, The Nature Conservancy and global genomics leader BGI will dive deeper into the science behind these iconic animals, sequencing their genome to unravel threats to their survival and support dedicated recovery efforts already under way. This is one of the first attempts to sequence the entire genome of nearly every member of an endangered wildlife population.

We know that the threats to these orcas include noise and other disturbances from boat traffic, chemical contaminants in Puget Sound and, crucially, a scarcity of Chinook salmon, which is their primary food source. Genome mapping can further our understanding, helping determine how suspected inbreeding may affect their survival.

Orca J15 with her calf J50 in 2015. Researchers monitored J50—also known as Scarlet— closely in recent months, as she was in declining health. In September, experts concluded she

Original Title: Genetic Research is the Next Step to Help Recover Endangered Orcas
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