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Bringing the Secrets of Orcas Underwater to Light

Pete Springer/OPB

Researchers in Seattle are getting a glimpse into a whole new world. Until recently, scientists knew very little about orca behavior underwater. However new technology has allowed them to dive in and track the patterns of these endangered whales. Their goal is to unlock the answers to many unknown questions. For instance, are the orcas social patterns, traveling routes, or hunting abilities affected by more traffic in the waters?

D-Tags‘ — also known as suction tags — are data collection devices placed on the orca with a five foot pole. Getting these on the whale isn’t a easy task. The boat must match the speed of the mammal while driving parallel to it in order to avoid disturbance as the whale travels. Once placed on the orca, the device tracks the movement of the whale in comparison to vessels in close proximity, watching to see if any normal patterns of the whale are disrupted by large boats.   

Many are worried that the crowded environment might be negatively affecting the whales. Scientists know that the orcas are communicating louder because of the boats in the water. This added noise makes it harder for the whales to hunt, but researchers are confident the D-Tags will give them better insight.

Orca Tagging Adventure from EarthFix on Vimeo.

Do you think placing D-Tags on whales is a good idea? Should less vessels be allowed in the area? What could people in the surrounding area do to help the orcas?


  • Ashley Ahearn: Science and Environment Reporter for KUOW
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