© Robert Pittman | NOAA
The killer whale population in the Puget Sound in Washington state has been dropping quickly, worrying environmentalists. Only about 78 orcas now live in the sound, a level not seen since 1985, and the social pods they live in are splintering.
The killer whale population in the Puget Sound, a sound in Washington state whose area includes Seattle, is rapidly declining. No whales have been born since 2012, two years ago.
Two whales died this year.
The Center for Whale Research said that the whale population has grown as low as 78, the lowest it's been in the past 20 years, since 1985. The whales are also acting erratically, and seem to be splitting up from their social groups, called pods
. There are three pods that make up the population in the Sound, pods J, K, and L.
Ken Balcomb, a researcher who works in Washington, has been studying the orca population in the Puget Sound since 1976. Every year, he does a census of the whales, which he gives to the U.S. government. These "Southern Residents," as they are called by environmental scientists, are under federal protection by the Endangered Species Act.
The three pods that live in the sound usually congregate during the summer, but in the last few years the pods have seemed to be splintering apart.
These small groups have been tending to stay away from each other. Balcomb said that two or three members from a pod have been swimming around in their own group, with some members from different pods joining each other. The whales seem to be making a new social order.