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Researchers On Hunt For Killer Whales' Winter Hideout

A porpoising juvenile transient orca. Photo by Richard Dudley/Flickr
A porpoising juvenile transient orca. Photo by Richard Dudley/Flickr

This week , federal biologists will cast off on a research cruise from NOAA's new homeport in Newport, Oregon. They hope to crack an enduring mystery about some of the most studied killer whales on earth. Namely, where do the Northwest's resident orca whales go in the winter?

Every winter, the three pods of orca whales that call Northwest waters home just disappear into the wild blue yonder. Research biologist Dawn Noren and colleagues from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center are about to embark on a three-week mission to find them.

"Sometimes the waves are huge and it's raining," Noren says. "So it's a challenging time to be trying to find these guys, that's for sure."

The Northwest's resident killer whales are on the endangered species list. Noren says that makes it more important to figure out where they're hanging out for as much as half the year.

"They're off the coast of Oregon, or Washington or California. We don't exactly know what risks they may be facing in those habitats," Noren says. "So it's important to determine where they're going, how long they're spending in these areas, what they're eating and any other risk factors that we need to be aware of to start investigating."

Noren says the NOAA research ship will tow an array of underwater microphones and rely on spotters to try to locate the elusive quarry.

On the Web:

Southern Resident Killer Whales Research Update:

Orca species profile:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers business, environment, public policy, human interest and national news across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be heard during "Morning Edition," "Weekday," and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.