Researchers On Hunt For Killer Whales' Winter Hideout

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A porpoising juvenile transient orca. Photo by Richard Dudley/Flickr hide caption

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This week , federal biologists will cast off on a research cruise from NOAA's new homeport in Newport, Oregon. They hope to crack an enduring mystery about some of the most studied killer whales on earth. Namely, where do the Northwest's resident orca whales go in the winter?

Every winter, the three pods of orca whales that call Northwest waters home just disappear into the wild blue yonder. Research biologist Dawn Noren and colleagues from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center are about to embark on a three-week mission to find them.

"Sometimes the waves are huge and it's raining," Noren says. "So it's a challenging time to be trying to find these guys, that's for sure."

The Northwest's resident killer whales are on the endangered species list. Noren says that makes it more important to figure out where they're hanging out for as much as half the year.

"They're off the coast of Oregon, or Washington or California. We don't exactly know what risks they may be facing in those habitats," Noren says. "So it's important to determine where they're going, how long they're spending in these areas, what they're eating and any other risk factors that we need to be aware of to start investigating."

Noren says the NOAA research ship will tow an array of underwater microphones and rely on spotters to try to locate the elusive quarry.

On the Web:

Southern Resident Killer Whales Research Update:

http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/publications/documents/SRKW%20Newsletter%202011.pdf

Orca species profile:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/killerwhale.htm

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

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