Wildlife researchers have identified the key feeding area for a critically endangered population of killer whales near Vancouver Island and proposed the creation of a unique, miniature conservation zone for the few square kilometres encompassing the animals’ favourite seafood restaurant.
The international team of scientists, including University of British Columbia biologist Rob Williams and colleagues from Britain and the U.S., spent four months in the summer of 2006 painstakingly monitoring the movements of a three-pod population of killer whales in waters off B.C. and Washington state that numbers just 87 individuals — so few that every animal has been identified from distinctive markings.
The researchers found the whales were about three times more likely to feast on Chinook salmon — their preferred meal — in a narrow coastal strip south of Washington’s San Juan Island than anywhere else in their summer range.
In an article published in the latest issue of the journal Animal Conservation, the scientists propose strict protections on this whale-dining “hot spot,” arguing that the no go zone is small enough to establish a practical system for diverting all boat traffic but large enough to guarantee the whales unfettered feeding.
“Protecting even small patches of water can provide conservation benefits, as long as we choose the spots wisely,” said lead researcher Erin Ashe, a biologist at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, in a summary of the study.