Study: Chinook salmon are key to Northwest orcas all year


This Sept. 2008 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research taken near Washington state’s San Juan Islands shows scientists looking for clues about the diet of the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas using a pool skimmer to collect the scales or other remains of salmon the whales had eaten. A long-term study published Wednesday, March 3, 2021, reaffirmed the importance of Chinook salmon to the whales even when they cruise the outer Pacific Coast, where the fish are harder to find. (Ken Balcomb/Center for Whale Research via AP)

SEATTLE (AP) — A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas eat.

Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales.

The researchers said the whales sometimes eat other species, including halibut, lingcod and steelhead, but they depend most on Chinook. And they consumed the big salmon from a wide range of sources — from those that spawn in California’s Sacramento River all the way to the Taku River in northern British Columbia.

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