If you think sharks are the largest predatory fish in the world, then you are wrong – orcas are. However, just like with any other fish in the world, they are still susceptible to various environmental changes, pollution, and man-made activities. So, are orcas endangered just like with other large predatory fishes?
To give you a hint, all marine mammals, including all species of orcas, are protected under the MMPA or the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. However – is this enough not to consider them as endangered species? We’ll soon find out below as we will fill out some valuable information on whether these apex predators are already considered endangered.
Brief Information About Orcas
Orcas, commonly known as killer whales, are considered the largest predatory in the world, as we mentioned. They are in the same class as great white sharks, but due to their distinct size and average weight, they far exceed great whites in this category, making them the sea's rulers.
Although they are not as infamous as great whites, they are carnivores and primarily feed on other mammals such as sharks, sea whales, seals, sea birds, and even large whales.
Are orcas endangered? Despite being on top of the food chain, there are still a set of parameters to discuss whether these apex predators are on a decline. Various factors such as catching, ocean pollution, loss of habitat, and many more can be attributed to the overall decline of the species.
Threats to Orcas
The last time orcas were assessed with their numbers dates back to the year 2013 in which suggests that factors such as ocean pollution and prey depletion could lead up to 30% of the orcas decline over a few generations.
And while studies suggest that prey depletion and ocean depletions are the primary threats to orcas population, there are still other factors that could potentially spell disaster to these creatures if not properly addressed, such as noise pollution, hunting, and capturing may keep their population on the decline for several years.
Capture and Hunting
As you may have already known, sea aquariums and theme park's primary source of income other than various factors are orca exhibitions. When orca exhibitions were on the horizon, the constant need to find an orca in the wild grew extensively to the point that it is estimated that around 100 orcas were captured on the coast of British Columbia and Washington during the mid-late 19th century.
In fact, during the years 2013 to 2016, an estimated 15 orcas were captured in the wild and sent back to various sea aquariums and marine parks in China. Today, various organizations still face these threats as the sum of money associated with capturing orcas is large enough to be enticing for fishermen. Still, these orcas face these threats, and even though protected, they are not safe in the black market.
Being on top of the food chain means you get to enjoy an overabundance of food sources from various parts of the water. However, due to overfishing and habitat loss, the food sources for orcas were on a rapid decline leading to some species of orcas migrating to some bodies of water around the world just looking for food.
What also makes it worrying is that some populations of orcas have specialized diets consisting of an already endangered chinook salmon. When there’s a depleted food source, the competition grows as fewer and fewer sources are able to feed these giants, thus – may lead to eventual starvation and death.
Another instance of this particular situation is orcas living off the coast of Gibraltar, in which there’s a huge population of Bluefin tuna. Because of commercial fishing of this species, food sources plummeted to the extremes. Chinook salmon and bluefin tuna are some of the highest valued types of fish for commercial fishing.
Pollutants coming from various industries such as sewers, processing plants, pesticide runoff, waste water plants contribute to the overall outlook of the orca species. When a contaminant enters the ocean water, these have an immediate effect. Once orcas get to swim in this environment, their reproductive and immune systems are greatly affected.
Aside from that, they also contaminate their food source, leaving them looking for spots to find another one. Even more so is that PCB or polychlorinated biphenyl is already banned. However, this type of plastic continues to be a nuisance to the orcas' population.
When it was banned in 1979, PCBs are still found in orcas tissue today and are still present in the ocean water. Various organizations worldwide are still battling for PCB banning as all species of orcas have a relatively high PCB content found in their body up to this very day.
Are Orcas Endangered?
As we’ve mentioned, all marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. There are two known species of orcas. The Southern Resident Orcas that live off the coast of Southeast Asia to Central California are considered endangered by ESA or the Endangered Species Act. In contrast, the transient orcas that swim through Alaska's Northern and Southern coast up to Southern California are considered depleted.
The IUCN, or the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the highest governing bodies across the world, considers the orca species as ‘data deficient’ which means there’s not a lot of evidence dictating that their numbers are on the decline to the verge of being considered endangered. However, this might sound surprising because of the nature of these creatures, orcas or killers, while they are quite hard to study in the wild due to their constant migration and elusiveness.
However, the IUCN made a point that Orcas thriving off the coast of the strait of Gibraltar are considered endangered as their primary food source – which is the bluefin tuna are also on the endangered list.
Are orcas endangered? Orcas are, without a doubt, some of the most easily distinguishable marine mammals on the planet due to their massiveness and their distinct black and white colorations. Despite being on top of the food chain, they are not excused for threats that make their population plummet.
Fortunately, orcas have been protected mammals for several decades now, and although their numbers were on the decline back then, studies show that they have a steady rise in numbers thanks to these laws. Hopefully, this leads to a promising future for their kind.
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