A pioneering study found an alarming increase in skin disease in endangered southern resident killer whales.
This revelation, which worries biologists, emphasizes the need to safeguard and conserve these gorgeous animals.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined over 20,000 killer whale photos taken in the Salish Sea from 2004 to 2016.
The photos revealed gray spots and targets on these whales' skin. Skin lesions' cause remains unknown despite intensive research.
This observation may have far-reaching effects. Wildlife veterinarian and SeaDoc Society science director Joseph K. Gaydos conducted the study.
Before looking at the data, we had no idea that these skin lesions were increasing so dramatically.
Now we need to isolate the potential infectious agent.
The researchers eliminated environmental factors like water temperature and salt variations that could have caused skin disease.
The specialists then hypothesized that an infectious pathogen caused the lesions, which could indicate the whales' impaired immune systems.
The southern resident killer whale species is already facing many threats, making the discovery frightening.
This unusual population has fewer than 75 people. These salmon-eaters roam coastal and interior waters from southeastern Alaska to California.
Three pods—J, K, and L—make up their society. Their endangered condition and nutrition distinguish them.
Since 1976, the Center for Whale Research has photographed these whales for identification. They take clear photos of each person for remote health evaluations.