MMRU Orca Cruise 2020 videos
One of the first things we do after recovering our suction-cupped data logger is huddle around a laptop in the boat’s galley as the data are downloaded to see and hear what the whale we followed experienced. The biologger records movements and dive depths. It also records the whales calling to each other, and films them capturing fish and interacting with each other.Read More
In the case of A100 (the first whale we followed after arriving in Johnstone Strait on August 20th), we were all excited to see what she had been doing. However, our excitement and sense of awe was quickly replaced with shock and dismay when we realized that the occasional flashes we were seeing in front of the camera were not salmon — but were coming from a plastic flasher used by fishermen to draw salmon towards their hooks. A100 had swallowed a hooked salmon —- and now has the hook embedded in her.
We informed Fisheries and Oceans Canada about our sad discovery, and are sharing these images and video with everyone. It is a disturbing video to see and hear.
We could not see the flasher that was hooked to A100 from our boat or in any of the identification photos we took of her when she surfaced. However, we could occasionally see a reflection of light bouncing off the flasher in the video we shot from our drone.
Frame grabs of the flasher from the underwater video suggest the flasher came from a recreational fishing boat. According to John McCulloch, a member of the DFO Sport Fish Advisory Board who viewed some of our images, the ball bearing swivels joined with split rings to bead chain swivels and the type of fasteners indicate it is lighter gear, and the knots and thickness of the monofilament line are also consistent with recreational fishing gear (25 to 40 lb breaking strength). Commercial fishing salmon trollers use similar flashers, but generally use significantly thicker and stronger monofilament line (80 to 100 pound breaking strength), and most often use crimps and heavier fasteners, instead of knots and lighter snap, to attach the heavier line to the flasher and lure.
If this is Canadian recreational salmon fishing gear, the hook should be barbless and likely made of plated steel (not stainless steel). However, if it came from Alaska, the hook will likely be barbed.
We do not know whether A100 took the fish when being reeled in on a fishing rod, or whether A100 caught a fish that had broken the fishing line after being hooked.
Flashers are used to catch the attention of salmon, and bring them closer to a baited hook or lure. Typically, flashers are placed about 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 m) from the hook when fishing for Chinook during summer.
Based on distances we measured from the aerial photographs taken in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, we estimate that the flasher extends ~5 ft (1.5 m from the corner of her mouth). Given the typical distance between a hook and a flasher, we believe that the hook holding the line and flasher is caught in A100’s mouth.
There have been very few reports of killer whales dragging flashers, so it is difficult to make a prognoses for A100’s health. Sea lions seen with flashers hanging from their mouths usually have the hook caught in their throat or stomach. According to Vancouver Aquarium’s veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, the real damage to sea lions that swallow hooks with flashers is caused by the drag and slicing of the monofilament fishing line that prevents them from catching fish. Cutting off the flasher has helped some sea lions survive.
In a study published over two decades ago, John Ford and colleagues reported that the stomach contents of two of eight carcasses of resident killer whales examined contained hooks or lures designed to catch salmon, and that another two of these individuals had ingested halibut hooks.
In 2015, J39 (one of the southern resident killer whales) was seen with a flasher dangling from his mouth. The flasher was seen for 5 days, and was gone on the sixth day. J39 is still alive and has not showed any apparent health effects from this incident according to Dr. Haulena.
The hook in A100 appears to be caught in the mouth, and the amount of drag created by the flasher should be relatively small for such a large animal. A barbless hook would also come out more easily than a barbed one. All of this suggests that A100 should be able to feed successfully and survive until the flasher either breaks off, or the hook rusts or works its way out of her mouth.
We have not seen A100 since we made this discovery. It will be important to look out for her to determine whether she is still carrying the flasher, and whether her body condition deteriorates.
12 Diary / Research Drone
Yesterday, we spent the day observing the C1 and D1 pods (members of the A clan) hunting alone or in small groups for fish. They later all came together to rest and travel slowly to their next foraging location. This is what we saw from the air.
14 Diary / Research Observation
Enjoy your ride as you travel with the D1 pod. This video was taken by D26 from its orca-cam. Each frame of the video has corresponding data on depth, speed, vocalizations and 3D-movement.Read More
D26 is 10 years old, but its sex is unknown. The video shows D26 interacting with other family members as they travel together through Queen Charlotte Strait.
We were surprised to see how different the skin of a killer whale looks underwater. The skin appears completely black above water, but appears quite different underwater due most likely to lighting.
We shared the images with a pathologist and a veterinarian who thought we are seeing edema (spongiosus) based on dead orcas that they have examined. Edema is a skin condition that should resolve with time, and may be associated with nutritional and health condition, or a change in the environment.
This is the most marked up whale we have seen so far, but all have shown unexpected skin colourations and lesions such as in this video from D26.
16 Diary / Research Observation
In addition to seeing the dolphins and killer whales together, we have also seen Dall’s porpoise joining the action as captured in this drone footage. See if you can count the number of killer whales, white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoise — and let us know your tallies.
17 Diary / Research Observation
We often see Pacific white-sided dolphins and resident killer whales interacting. However, this is the first time anyone has seen this from the whale’s perspective.
LINK to BBC video from February 2012