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Chinook Salmon, American Bumble Bee and Black Ash Populations at risk of extinction say scientists
Photo by Meryl Raddatz.
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Chinook Salmon, American Bumble Bee and Black Ash Populations at risk of extinction say scientists

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is recommending changes to the status of species at risk following its semi-annual Wildlife Species Assessment meeting in Ottawa last week. “Nature Canada is very concerned that the Fraser River populations of Chinook Salmon, the American Bumble Bee, and Black Ash, among others, have been added to the growing numbers of species at risk in Canada” said Stephen Hazell, director of policy at Nature Canada.  “Nature Canada urges the government of Canada to proceed with the legal listings of species recommended by COSEWIC so that recovery strategies and action plans can begin as soon as possible.” The Black Ash, a tree that is common to swampy woodlands in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador has been designated as Threatened. The Black Ash is susceptible to a number of pests (especially the invasive Emerald Ash Borer) and diseases. Due to its close proximity to rapidly expanding human populations, Black Ash is also threated by human development. Moving out to the West Coast of the country, the committee found 13 populations of Chinook salmon to be declining, with eight assessed as Endangered, four as Threatened and one as Special Concern. Only the large population that lives in the Thompson River is stable. The interconnectivity of ecosystems, and importance of all wildlife species is especially evident with this designation in that the Chinook Salmon are a critical food source for the Endangered Southern Resident Orca, that Nature Canada believes is in need of urgent emergency protection. American Bumble Bees are now listed as Special Concern in Canada. Threats to the American Bumble bee include habitat loss, pollution, mites and pesticide use. Since June, Nature Canada has been campaigning to ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) in Canada and are calling for the Federal Government to take swift and urgent action. This pesticide is currently used on farms, despite causing millions of pollinators, aquatic insects and other beneficial species to disappear in staggering numbers around the world. “COSEWIC’s science-based recommendations for designating wildlife species at risk under the Species At Risk Act is critical to their survival  and to protecting biodiversity and ecosystem protection”  said Ted Cheskey, Nature Canada’s naturalist director. The Polar Bear, with populations in Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and northern parts of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, was another species whose status was being considered by COSEWIC, and whose designation as Special Concern in 2017 did not change in this year’s assessment.


It isn’t all bad news however – there are actions that you can take today to help recover these species at risk , and many others, from coast to coast to coast:
  • Save the Turtles! Read up on what to do when you see a turtle crossing the road before heading to cottage country this Spring and Summer;
  • Say no to neonics and yes to birds and bees! Support the work we’re doing, along with 13 other environmental organizations, to ban the use of neonics in Canada, which is a deadly pesticide causing harm to birds and bees;
  • Use your voice for Orcas! Sign our petition and raise your voice to restrict Chinook salmon fisheries and protect the Endangered Southern Resident Orcas;
  • Become an advocate for nature! Join the nature nation to stay up-to-date with the important work we’re doing to protect the incredible wildlife species and landscapes from coast, to coast, to coast.
COSEWIC's next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held in April 2019 in St. John's, Newfoundlandand Labrador.

Wildlife Wednesday – The Burrowing Owl, what a hoot!
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Wildlife Wednesday – The Burrowing Owl, what a hoot!

The Burrowing Owl is unlike most other owls. It lives in burrows underground, is active during the day, the female is smaller than the male, and its favourite foods are insects. This owl is drably coloured, with a mix of brown, white and beige spotting. To protect the female and the young, the male typically remains outside of the burrow to keep watch, standing upright on his long thin legs, so that he can see further. The Burrowing Owl can stand a whopping, 23-28cm tall! When threatened, the Burrowing Owl makes a hissing noise that sounds like a rattlesnake! Since the Burrowing Owl need sparsely vegetated grasslands with burrows excavated by badgers, ground squirrels or other mammals, finding a suitable habitat is becom difficult. However, the Burrowing Owl has come to find its ideal habitat in the regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. More specifically, the area of Govenlock. Govenlock is a region in southwest Saskatchewan where many species are found, like the Burrowing Owl. Govenlock’s luscious grasslands make for the ideal habitat for this owl. This owl is now Endangered, with many reasons due to population decline because of habitat degradation. [caption id="attachment_38583" align="alignleft" width="227"] © C. Wallis[/caption] Since the Burrowing Owl's rely on their burrows already excavated, and the mammals that excavate to create the burrows, are declining in population, these owls are unable to find suitable nesting sites. These mammals (badgers, ground squirrels) are regarded as pests by farmers and are being killed. Ground squirrels and foxes are also often killed with poison when they interfere with humans; and since the Burrowing owl feeds on the carcasses of the small animals,  they too are poisoned.  The Burrowing Owl now has a fighting chance at survival! With less use of pesticides, the Burrowing Owl has the potential to be saved. Now, we can focus on helping the species reproduce and flourish, so that it is present for many generations to come. If you share this information with your friends and family, they will learn about the Burrowing Owl and they can help the owl too! To help, if you live near or on farmland, protect the mammals that create the nesting sites for the Burrowing Owls! Also, if you live in rural areas, be careful when driving as foxes and squirrels tend to cross the street at any moment!

Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!
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Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!

Ever wonder how life is in the deep blue sea? What lives among coral reefs, undersea mountains and volcanos, grooves and caves? What the differences are between freshwater and saltwater biodiversity? What’s the biggest species? The fiercest? The weirdest? Well, we wondered too; and thus, let’s go Swimming with Species to find out all about animals that lurk in the waters around Canada!


Today’s species is the Porbeagle Shark!

The Porbeagle shark is found in open seas in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. In the North Atlantic, if you are anywhere from Newfoundland to New Jersey to Greenland and Russia, you might have the opportunity to witness one. But do not fear, the Porbeagle shark is known not to feed on other mammals, and is actually recognized for its playful behaviour!  The main diet of the Porbeagle shark consists of herring, lancetfish and mackerel. However, they do also dine on cod, redfish, haddock, squid and shellfish. Overall, their diet consists of pelagic (open sea) creatures. If you think you see a Porbeagle shark, look for its distinctive features. It has dark bluish-grey to bluish-black colouring on its back with white colour underneath. On its tail, it has a secondary keel underneath its longer primary keel. This shark has a stout head, with a pointed snout and large black eyes. Its teeth are small and smooth-edged narrow, with lateral cusps at the base of each tooth. But its most recognizable feature is the white spot at the base of the first dorsal fin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHmWe0Qj4w8 The Porbeagle shark joins the other species of sharks found in Canadian waters including the white shark, salmon shark, and shortfin mako. Different from other shark species', the Porbeagle shark has to keep moving in order to breathe. It also has a heat regulating mechanism that keeps its body temperature 3 to 8°C above the surrounding water temperature. This shark is limited to where it can go, and so, it spends most of its time in waters between 8 and 13°C. When not in the cooler waters, the mature female Porbeagle sharks migrate south to the seas between Cuba and Bermuda. It has also been seen near Brazil and Chile. It is in the warmer waters that the females pup, which occurs in late winter or early spring. Yet, their mating occurs in southern Newfoundland, in September to November. The Porbeagle shark prefers to remain in deep waters between 1,350 to 4,400 feet, but they often shift from shallow to deep, even being sighted in waters as shallow as 3.3 feet! The female can produce between 1-5 pups, but generally it is only four that are between 60-75cm long at birth. The female Porbeagles reach sexual maturity at a size of 217 cm long (which they reach around 13 years of age), while males mature at 174 cm (8 years old). The adults can reach a size of over 3 meters (10-12 feet)! Usually, it is only between 1.5-1.8 m and 135 kg (298 lbs). They have a life expectancy of 30-40 years, with most Porbeagle sharks indicating growth rings in the vertebrae that indicate at least 26 years of age before death. The biggest threat that the shark is facing is overfishing, both by fishing on purpose and by accident. This makes the Porbeagle very likely to be caught as bycatch. Luckily, directed fishing has been suspended, which does provide some hope for this helpless shark, but they still continue to be caught as bycatch. When caught, fisheries have strict rules that they must be returned to the water in a way that is least harmful. Since the fishing of the Porbeagle shark was suspended in 2013, no licenses that have been issued since that year. The population has not been estimated since 2009, but it was estimated between 197,000 to 207,000 individuals, including approximately 10,000 to 14,000 spawning females. The Porbeagles are very vulnerable to over-exploitation because they have a late age of maturity, and a small number of pups (average of 4 per litter). Sadly, the mortality rate for the Porbeagle shark is estimated at 100 tons per year (that is approximately 600-700 Porbeagle sharks per year). In addition to threats posed by fisheries, there are other human related threats. These threats include noise associated with offshore petroleum exploratory seismic surveys, and marine pollution. This species is endangered, but there are things you can do to help!
  • Learn about sharks to better understand them!
  • Reduce purchasing shark products, anything from meat to oils (found in any beauty items and health nutrition)
  • reduce your seafood consumption, this would also assist in stopping the accidental bycatch as seafood would be in less demand, so less fishing would occur.
  • In order to reduce pollution, begin your ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ regime! You have the potential to make a difference.
  • Lastly, share this with your friends and family so that can learn about this 'playful shark' that needs our help!

Flying with the Olive Clubtail Dragonfly
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Flying with the Olive Clubtail Dragonfly

Who doesn’t love a beautiful dragonfly? The Olive Clubtail is a dragonfly in the clubtail family. The adults grow 50-69mm long, have widespread eyes and have a swollen abdomen (especially in males). Their wings are clear and the thorax (part of the body that bears the wings and the legs) is grey-green with broad, brown shoulder stripes and the black abdomen has a yellow mark. The Olive Clubtail lives in scattered populations throughout North America from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California. As larvae, the Olive Clubtail burrow in the bottom of mud-or sand-bottomed rivers or streams. The larvae are aquatic predators and live for about two years in the bottom of the streams or lakes until emerging as adults. Their diet as larvae consists of bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The adult Olive Clubtail, unlike other dragonflies, eat a variety of small, flying insects. In British Columbia, the adults fly from mid-July to mid-October, so that would be your chance to spot one! If you are a water lover, the males fly over open water, so keep an eye out if you are on the water during those months! The females may be seen laying her eggs on the surface of the water. For the rest of the time, the adults rest in shrub, trees, and sometimes perched on the ground. The Olive Clubtail are facing threats to their habitat from river channeling. Urban, residential, transportation and marina developments as well as pollution from power boats and disturbance at popular swimming beaches are all having impact on larval survival. Introduced fish have altered the ecology of the Okanagan and Christina watersheds which are becoming the major predators for the larvae. The waters are facing many pollutants such as: land development, agriculture practices, storm water runoff, sewage systems, forestry and range activities, and pesticides (from the orchards and vineyards). If you are a farmer, make sure you are not using any pesticides. That is the first way you can help! Also, if you regularly go camping or you spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure you are using environmentally friendly products. Do not purchase products that are harmful to the environment, as they may further hurt the Olive Clubtail’s chance at survival. Another way to help is becoming aware of the shores that the Olive Clubtail call home. Minimizing disturbance to these areas will help with successful reproduction (as there are less disturbances). Lastly, by learning about the Olive Clubtail and spreading the word about their imminent threats, you can play a huge part in the safety of the Olive Clubtail.

Jumpin’ around with the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat
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Jumpin’ around with the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat

I know you’re thinking that this rat must resemble that of the common rat we find on the street, but no, this rat is not in the family of the common rat. In fact, this rat jumps like a kangaroo! The Ord’s kangaroo rat is a nocturnal rodent, so unless you’re out very late, you’ll never see it! The kangaroo rat has very large hind legs and feet, and is mainly orange-brown with distinctive white markings, including stripes on the tail and its tufted tail accounts for more than half of its total length (260mm). As an adult, the Ord’s kangaroo rat will have a body mass of 69g, that’s less than 1 pound! Sadly, these rats have a life span of less than 1 year old. The average litter size is 3, but adult females may have up to 4 liters per year. Astoundingly, the average age for the first reproduction after birth is 47 days. The populations of the Ord’s Kangaroo rat is lowest in early spring as reproduction is constrained to the snow-free period. The Ord’s Kangaroo rat is found in Saskatchewan, Alberta and central Mexico. They require open, vegetated and sandy habitats to be able to hop around and to burrow. Canadian Ord’s Kangaroo rats are the only one of their kind to ‘hibernate’ in the winter when the ground is snow covered. When they sleep, it can last up to 17 hours and can occur about 70 times a winter. There are high death rates because of starvation, and freezing. But, they have been recorded outside in -19 degrees Celsius during snow free-periods. Their natural habitat consists of sand dunes, sand flats and sandy slopes of valleys in sand hill areas. But the sandy habitats are declining due to invasion of vegetation, climate change and human-land uses. Ord’s Kangaroo rats are territorial and defend burrows and underground food nests. The kangaroo rat is granivorous (only eats grains), but also eats other plants and insects. The biggest threats are loss of habitat. Also, since there have been more recent extreme seasonal fluctuations, it has affected population size. Most kangaroo rats travel less than 500m in their lifetime. It has even put the Canadian population at imminent risk of extinction. The kangaroo rat cannot live in areas were humans are, as it is a threat to them. They thrive best, when away from anything that can be an anthropogenic threat. Agricultural practices are also known to be a threat. The kangaroo rat possess unique characteristics, and they are useful for conserving prairie sand dunes, which are a declining habitat that many species depend on. If you appreciate the prairie ecosystem, and you see it in person, you will gain a deeper understanding of the habitat that these kangaroo rats live in. You will then wish to join the fight for these little kangaroo rats. Also, by visiting the prairies in person, or learning from online, you will be further equipped on the best ways to help. And if you spot an Ord’s kangaroo rat, contact someone! Lastly, share this information with your friends and family so that they can know all about the Ord's Kangaroo Rat!

Wildlife Wednesday with the West Virginia White
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Wildlife Wednesday with the West Virginia White

If you have never seen or heard of the West Virginia White before, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it is in the butterfly family! This butterfly is small (only 3-4cm in wingspan) and is white. Its wings are translucent and on the underside they have veins with grey-brown scaling. While a caterpillar, it is yellow-green with a green stripe along each side. It is most commonly found in Quebec, Ontario (although more rarely), New England and Georgia. The habitat of the West Virginia White is in moist, deciduous woodlots. The butterfly requires a supply of toothwort in the forest (a small, spring-blooming plant) because that is the only food source for the larvae. As an adult, the West Virginia White needs flower nectar from toothworts. The male butterflies patrol slowly to locate females. Eggs are laid on undersides of host plant leaves. This butterfly is one of the first active in the spring and its flight period is quire short. Also, they fly only once per year. In Ontario, the flight period has been recorded from April 4 to June 13th. The West Virginia White has been listed as Special Concern which means that it require close attention because it can become endangered or threatened at any point. The butterfly is threatened mostly by garlic mustard which is an invasive species found in the forest. The butterflies often opt to lay their eggs on the garlic mustard instead of their host plant. Sadly, the larvae often do not survive when on garlic mustard. So, to help, if you have a garden or are near a forested area, make note of the garlic mustard and if possible, try to remove some. Every little bit helps! Also, do share this information with friends and family so that they can help save the West Virginia White!

Prancing with the Peary Caribou
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Prancing with the Peary Caribou

Famously known to be Santa’s flying assistants, the reindeer, also known as caribou, are much closer to home than you think! Interestingly, the term reindeer (used in Eurasia) and caribou are used interchangeably. The Peary Caribou, a subspecies of caribou, and the smallest subspecies, are located in the Canadian Arctic, such as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. To spot a Peary Caribou, look for a white body, with a slate back, and a grey stripe down the front of the legs. If it is a winter season, the slate back may turn a dingy brown, and some may look entirely white! The antlers are velvet and are slate-coloured instead of brown like deer and other caribou and, both the females and the males grow antlers! The Peary Caribou are integral components to the Inuit and Inuvialuit communities as they are not only a source of meat, but for many communities are important to the local economies. If you are lucky, you may even see traditional handcrafts that are sold in markets, and collected throughout not just Canada, but internationally. The habitat of the Peary Caribou is primarily treeless Arctic tundra. These regions are characterized as a polar desert with short, cool summers, and long, cold winters. The caribou has a broad diet and are versatile feeders, with diet varying seasonally. Since the Peary Caribou’s have dietary flexibility, the majority of their habitat is still available and has not been lost or fragmented by industrial and other human developments. You may ask yourself why the Peary Caribou is able to live in the Arctic environment and you are not (not as easily as these majestic creatures anyways). Well the reason is that they have adaptations that allow them to live there. They have compact body size for conserving heat; hooves that allow them to walk on and dig through wind-driven snow; and fur that helps them camouflage. The Peary Caribou are polygynous, living in small groups. They live approximately 15 years in the wild, with the cows producing their first offspring by 3 years old! The males average at 1.7 m in length and weigh 245 lbs! The female are much smaller, weighing 135 lbs. The species is facing threats from the changing climate, including increased intensity and frequency of severe weather events, which makes it difficult to search and hunt for food, and decreased extent and thickness of sea ice (causing shifts in migration). The other low-impact threats include hunting, energy production and mining, human intrusions from work activities, year-round military exercises, increases in traffic from snowmobiles, helicopters, and airplanes. The Peary Caribou is a Threatened species. That means that the species is likely to become endangered. So, this species has an excellent chance to recover and begin flourishing again if we help them now! I know you’re asking what you can do to help save this species. Well, by sharing this information with your friends and family, more people will know about the issues that the Peary Caribou is facing. With more people knowing about this species, that means there are that many more people that will want to help! But, if you are looking for something you can do right now, start by reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, and your personal footprint. That means Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

The Greater Sage-Grouse
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The Greater Sage-Grouse

The Greater Sage-Grouse is an endangered bird that lives in the Alberta, Saskatchewan regions within Canada, and in the Western states for the United States of America. The bird was once found in the province of British Columbia but has been extirpated for over a century. This bird is brownish-gray, plump, chicken-like, with white patterning. It has a long spiky pointed black-and –white tail and a black belly. The males can weigh about 4.5lbs, and the females about 2.2lbs. Surprisingly, this Grouse is the largest in North America! The Greater Sage-Grouse lives in the prairies, but has been seeing terrible declines to their habitat within the last 10 years. The Greater-Sage Grouse is limited to its habitat because it prefers lower wet areas, where the young can forage for insects. Also, their diet heavily consists of sage leaves and buds, so they can only survive where the sagebrush is found. The degradation to their habitat can be linked to:

  • Conversion of habitat to farmland and intensive livestock grazing;
  • Oil and gas development near leks;
  • Oil and gas wells and associated pipelines destroying sagebrush habitats;
  • Drainage and irrigation projects: the development of dams, dugouts and reservoirs increased fourfold in southeastern Alberta between 1951 and 2001, meaning more than 80% of the Greater Sage-Grouse range was altered.
The ‘lek’ is the critical area needed for breeding, also acting as central hubs for the majority of their activities. Luckily, in an unprecedented decision, the federal government, in 2013, announced that they would introduce an Emergency Protection Order to help save this prairie-dwelling Greater Sage-Grouse. This came after 2008, when public engagement and private consultations shed widespread awareness of the issues that this species is facing. This Emergency Protection Order plus the recently designated Protected Area of Govenlock, are two steps that are were much needed to help the Greater Sage-Grouse survive their habitat degradation, and begin to reproduce successfully again. Govenlock is a region in southwest Saskatchewan where many of the species are found. Govenlock has recently become a designated area. This step was crucial in the designation of Govenlock as a National Wildlife Area. Govenlock’s luscious grasslands, the only suitable habitat for this bird, are now protected, and the Greater Sage-Grouse as a result! The Emergency Order for the protection of the Greater-Sage Grouse was issued by the Minister of the Environment, backed by the Governor General in Council, based on the opinion that the Greater Sage-Grouse is facing imminent threat to its survival and recovery. Following this Emergency Protection Order, the following activities are now prohibited:
  • Killing or moving sagebrush plants, native grasses or native forbs in a legal subdivision or road allowance
  • Constructing and/or installing a fence in a legal subdivision or road allowance
  • Constructing a new road, or widening a road that is in the protected area
  • Operation of a facility, motor vehicle or machine that produces noise that exceeds 45 dB(A) (equivalent to the noise found in a library) at any given time between 1.5 hours before sunset to 1.5 hours after sunrise during the months of early April to end of May.
These prohibitions do not apply to people engaging in activities related to public safety or health, or to the health of animals and plants, and that are authorized under provincial law. It is important to remember that just because we do not see this animal every day, that it matters just as much as any other species at risk. It is up to us to save the Greater Sage-Grouse by changing mankind’s destructive ways! Share this information with your friends and family so that they can know the progress that has been made, and what they can do to help. The Greater Sage-Grouse would greatly benefit if each and every one of you reduced your ecological footprint.

Federal Government Fails Endangered Orcas
Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.
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Federal Government Fails Endangered Orcas

Threats to the endangered Southern Resident Orcas associated with marine vessels are set to increase with the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada have an opportunity to protect the Southern Resident Orca population from such threats by declaring an Emergency Order under the Species at Risk Act.

The Audit on Marine Mammals

Julie Gelfand, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada conducted an audit to determine whether Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada and Transport Canada adequately protected marine mammals in waters under the jurisdiction of the federal government from threats posed by marine vessels and commercial fishing during the period of 1 January 2012 and 1 June 2018. The Commissioner’s report was released October 2, 2018 and is available here: Report 2 – Protecting Marine Mammals. To summarize her official report, the Commissioner found that relevant federal authorities had not fully applied existing policies and tools to manage threats to marine mammals that stem from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Threats from commercial fishing include entanglements, bycatch, depletion of food sources such as salmon, noise and disturbance, oil spills and collisions with marine vessels. Risks posed by underwater noise and disturbance from marine vessels, collisions and oil spills could impede the recovery or speed the decline of marine mammal populations.

Species at Risk Management

The Commissioner also found that for 11 out of 14 marine mammal species listed as endangered or threatened under the Species at Risk Act, DFO could not demonstrate that it had implemented management measures to reduce threats from commercial fishing and marine vessels. Thus, the Commissioner found that management tools have not been used to protect marine mammals until the situation became severe.

Southern Resident Orcas

The plight of British Columbia’s Southern Resident Orcas demonstrate the impact of delaying management measures. While the Southern Resident Orca was listed as endangered in 2003, an Action Plan was not finalized until 2017. The Commissioner’s report found that DFO only began to implement management measures to address threats to the Southern Resident Orcas in 2017 and 2018. The Southern Resident Orcas are currently experiencing fatalities due to strikes with marine vessels and stress from noise and disturbance caused by marine shipping vessels. Both of these threats would intensify with increased marine shipping traffic associated with the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

To read recent coverage of this topic, consult the following

Swimming with Species – Orcas
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Swimming with Species – Orcas

Today’s species is the Orca!

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are among the best-known marine animals. They are iconic mammals of Canada’s wildlife, and hold an important symbolism among the Native communities. Orcas are super easy to identify with their unique tuxedo-like colouration and white “eye” patches. Since they live in all five oceans, we can find them to the east, west, and north of Canada! Now, we really should call them Orcas because “killer whales” is quite misleading. You see, Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family, (not whales)! By large, we’re talking males up to 9 meters long and weigh 6 to 9 thousand kilograms, that’s 7-10 tons! Females are a bit smaller, and are about 7 meters long and 4 to 7 thousand kilos (5-7 tons). [caption id="attachment_38463" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.[/caption]   Like most members of the dolphin family, Orcas are highly social. They live in groups called a pod which can consist of 10 to 40 related individuals. Research has found that there are different “types” of pods, for which scientists have used to classify and identify groups of Orcas. These are; Northern and Southern Resident type, Northern and Southern Transient type, and Offshore type. Differences between types can be subtle such as variations in vocal patterns and dorsal fin shapes, or more pronounced such as their preferred diet. Offshore and Residents Orcas will feed predominantly on fish; schooling fish for the Offshores, and coastal fish and squid for the Resident Orcas. Transient pods, on the other hand, feed almost exclusively on other marine mammals. Speaking of food, Orcas got their nicknames, killer whales, from their hunting strategy. Orcas are apex predators, or top predators of the oceans, and hunt in packs, quite fiercely. When a pod isn’t hunting, they spend time socializing with each other. They’ll travel, rest, explore, and play together. The most famous play behaviour is called breaching; when they dived out of the water’s surface into the air with leaps and twirls. In essence, they need to breach to come to the surface for respiration, but, they do so with fantastic style! Orcas aren’t the only ones though, most whales and dolphins perform these jumps, twirls and tail slaps. In addition, Orcas communicate with echolocation, which mean the use of sound waves to locate and identify objects within their surroundings. This helps them navigate for foraging and just for an Orca to tell another Orca their location. Orcas have long lifespans! They can live up 40-50 years old. However, females tend to live longer and can reach up to 80 years of age. Both females and males reach sexual maturity in their “teens” being 12-17 years old. Pods of different families will find one another to mate with. This keeps their genetic make-up stronger, versus if they were to inbreed. The gestation period is a little more than a year with 17 months. Babies are born with the same colouration as adults, so they really do look like miniature versions of their mother! [caption id="attachment_38462" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Eileen Redding[/caption] As social animals, offspring need their mother and pod members to learn behaviours, feed, and be safe from predators. It takes about a year before a baby is weaned, therefore it is crucial that mom and baby stay together during this time. If a baby gets lost, or gets separated from their mom, they will have a high chance of dying, not knowing how to survive on their own. Once weaned, the offspring stays with its natal pod for life. Orcas intrigue scientists with their complex behaviours. They are still so much to learn about them since scientists have only be able to conduct studies close to shores, and/or in captivity. Not only are parenting behaviours observed among pods, but pod members have been observed to teach younger members foraging and hunting skills. Pods of different “types” developed their own “dialect” for whistles, calls, and clicks, which is passed on to their offspring! But most fascinating is their ability to mourn. For example, when a baby dies, a mother will carry the body for days until she has “moved on”. This has been called a “Tour of Grief”. According to the ICUN, there is insufficient data to conclude a species assessment status other than “Data Deficient (DD)”. However, Orcas are still victims to many threats, most of them human-related. For one, commercial fisheries contribute to increased accidental net entrapment and decreased prey availability to native wildlife. Oil spills and toxic build-up via human waste affects all large species like Orcas, because toxins will accumulate in dangerous amounts within their fat cells. In addition, just as there are more cars on the roads, there are more ships asea. We don’t think of it; however, water traffic affects water acoustics, which then effects echolocation for Orcas and all other species that use this method of communication! Fortunately, they are people who do not take the threat of Orcas’ disappearance lightly. Conservation organizations like Nature Canada are pressing governments to urge the continuation of research projects, recovery plans, and imply more wildlife protection. Do you want to help out but think “oh well I’m just one person, right?” Wrong! You can help! Every step counts. Become more aware of what you’re buying and try to buy environmentally friendly items. Support sites such as Nature Canada that educate the public about our endangered species and provide guides to good stewardships. Participate in Orca educational programs with your provincial wildlife organizations. And lastly, spread the word! Post, share, and tweet about saving orcas. References: http://naturecanada.ca/what-we-do/naturevoice/endangered-species/know-our-species/orca/ http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15421/0 https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Orcinus_orca/ https://bc.ctvnews.ca/orca-s-tour-of-grief-over-after-carrying-dead-calf-for-nearly-3-weeks-1.4049902  

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