Orca

Two orcas socialising with each other.
Two orcas socialising with each other.

Drones reveal social lives of orcas

In the pre-drone days, researchers relied on their observations of the orcas when they surfaced, and this was understandably limited.

“Until now, research on killer whale social networks has relied on seeing the whales when they surface, and recording which whales are together," said lead author Michael Weiss, of the University of Exeter.

"Looking down into the water from a drone allowed us to see details such as contact between individual whales," he added.

Mmo iwdg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Long-finned pilot whale cow with her calf, off the coast of Ireland. Photo by Mmo iwdg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Buoy in Celtic Sea tracks oceanic noise

Equipped with an autonomous hydrophone, the buoy's function is to conduct for the first time real-time acoustic monitoring of the water's cetaceans to assess how oceanic noise pollution affects them. 

Deployed as part of the Smart Whale Sounds project, it will also track the distribution and behaviour of whale species in real-time and be used to train machine learning models to identify different species' calls. 

Swimming with dolphins
Swimming with and learning from dolphins

Learning the swimming secrets of dolphins and whales

This scenario may one day become reality. And to be efficient, such robots would need to be maneuverable and stealthy, and be able to closely mimic the movements of the marine creatures.

Scientists like Keith W. Moored are working on the next generation of underwater robots by studying the movements of dolphins and whales. "We're studying how these animals are designed and what's beneficial about that design in terms of their swimming performance, or the fluid mechanics of how they swim."

Whales, dolphins and porpoises should be enjoyed in the wild, not in captivity.

More companies cut ties with attractions housing captive cetaceans

Whether or not you have watched (or agree with) the movies Free Willy or Blackfish, the predicament of captive cetaceans is one that can spark off a heated debate from both sides of the fence.

Nonetheless, such movies and increased awareness have led to public calls for attractions and venues that keep wild animals captive to release them.

Marine-animal attractions like SeaWorld are particularly under fire due to their animal shows featuring captive cetaceans trained to perform for public entertainment.

Female orcas have extremely long postreproductive life spans; they stop reproducing in their late 30s and early 40s but can continue to live for decades thereafter

Orca grandmothers improve survival of their grandoffspring

In a study involving 378 orcas (or killer whales), researchers observed the first non-human example of the "grandmother effect" in a menopausal species.

This is when post-reproductive grandmothers (in this case, orcas) assist other members of the species with their offspring, thereby improving the young ones’ chances of survival. It was found that these post-reproductive orcas had the largest beneficial impact on their grandoffspring’s survival chances.

Male orca breaching

Sounds of orca send whales fleeing

Regarded as one of the ocean's most formidable predators, killer whales are pack hunters, with some orcas hunting other marine mammals while others prefer to eat only fish. In a new study published in Journal of Experimental Biology, Matthew Bowers from Duke University and colleagues speculated whether aquatic mammals that are potential killer whale prey could distinguish calls of the predatory killers from those of other marine mammals.

Male orca breaching

Sounds of orca send whales fleeing

Regarded as one of the ocean's most formidable predators, killer whales are pack hunters, with some orcas hunting other marine mammals while others prefer to eat only fish. In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Matthew Bowers from Duke University and colleagues speculated whether aquatic mammals that are potential killer whale prey could distinguish calls of the predatory killers from those of other marine mammals.

Orca performing in Loro Parque
Orca performing in Loro Parque

Sanctuary for retired cetaceans launched

The planned sanctuary will primarily serve orcas, belugas and dolphins endemic to colder waters who are retired from entertainment facilities, and injured or ill animals rescued from the ocean. Rescued animals may be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but those retired from the entertainment industry, who have never known life in the wild, are considered unlikely candidates for release and so would be given lifetime care.

Are Puget Sound Orcas starving to death?

As salmon runs decline, killer whale numbers take their hardest hit since the 1990s. Seven Puget Sound orcas most likely died this year.

Two of the resident orca families from Puget sound —L and K pods—have been seen in recent years feeding off the California coast in the winter. That was unheard of before early this decade, leading scientists to speculate they are driven to swim hundreds of miles just to meet their minimum nutritional requirements.