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U.S. study links presence of vessels to endangered orca feeding habits

Click to play video: 'Study shows female orca impacted more by nearby vessels' Study shows female orca impacted more by nearby vessels
WATCH: A new study has found that the proximity to ships impacts the hunting and feeding behaviour of female orca more than males. Linda Aylesworth reports – Jan 20, 2021

A new study by U.S. researchers is offering another piece in the puzzle on how to protect the region’s endangered southern resident killer whale population.

Just 74 of the orcas, who frequent the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, remain.

Read more: The orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days and 1,000 miles is pregnant again

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science by a team with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this month has found a link between the proximity of vessels and the whales’ feeding habits.

Researchers attached transmitters to seven female and six male orcas using suction cups, to monitor their foraging habits.

Click to play video: 'Orca’s health causing concerns' Orca’s health causing concerns
Orca’s health causing concerns – Aug 25, 2020

They found that the approach of vessels does appear to affect orca feeding behaviour. Whales made fewer and shorter feeding dives when boats came within 366 metres.

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Read more: New rules for B.C. boaters to help protect southern resident killer whales

The study also found female orcas appeared to be more sensitive to the presence of vessels than their male counterparts, and were more likely to switch out of foraging when boats came within that same 366-metre proximity.

Researchers said that tendency could have major implications for the future of the group, noting that underfeeding could prevent those females from getting enough energy to carry young.

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