Endangered whales in Washington’s Puget Sound to get individual records

The records will include data on behavior, reproductive success, and skin diseases and will be used to monitor individual health as well as overall trends

Endangered orcas in the inland waters of Washington state will now have individual health records, which researchers hope will help them identify threats to the whales health.

There are typically 84 whales residing in Puget Sound from spring to fall. These were listed as endangered in 2005 and are both genetically and behaviorally distinct from other killer whales. They use distinct calls to communicate and eat salmon rather than other marine mammals. Because of pollution, lack of prey and disturbance from boats, their numbers have fluctuated in the past few decades.

The whales are already thoroughly tracked and recorded. Researchers trail them by sea and with drones, keeping track of their measurements, waste and exhaled breath.

Individual health records, that combine all of the existing research on the whales, will be added to this program. On Tuesday, during a meeting in Seattle sponsored by SeaDoc Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) Fisheries and the National Marine Mammal Foundation, more than two dozen wildlife experts discussed how this would be executed.

The records will include data on behavior, reproductive success, skin diseases and more, Lynne Barre with Noaa Fisheries told the Associated Press. They will be used to monitor individual health as well as overall trends.

The goal is to really start getting a lot of data and pull them together in a way that permits easier analysis, Joe Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of California Davis, told the AP.

Ultimately, the real benefit of any health record is to help make [management] decisions, he added.

The records will help identify threats to the orcas health and provide insight into how to reduce or fix them, according to researchers.

It will be really powerful to rule out things that arent important and focus in on whats really important, Barre told the AP.

An initial database will be launched this summer using information on sex, age and gender as a starting point, according to Gaydos. Additional information will be added next year. Some details, such as who will manage the data and who will have access to it, have not yet been worked out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/30/endangered-whales-washington-puget-sound-health-records