The initiative is designed to help researchers identify potential dangers to the whales’ health, especially since the 84 or so killer whales that reside in Puget Sound have unusual genetic and behavioral features not found in other orcas. These whales use unique calls when communicating, and instead of feasting on smaller marine mammals like other orcas do, they tend to favor salmon as their main food choice. And while there are usually 84 whales in the area from spring to fall, several factors, including pollution, the presence of boats, and a lack of salmon has caused their numbers to be rather inconsistent in recent decades.
On top of their health records, the whales are already being tracked by means of drones, and followed while at sea. With these tracking methods, researchers document their measurements and data on their waste and breathing patterns. The health records will add to this data, featuring information on the whales’ behavior, skin diseases, and success in reproduction, among others. They will be tallied in order to pinpoint threats to the killer whales’ health, and to come up with strategies on how to mitigate these threats or completely eliminate them.
“The goal is to really start getting a lot of data and pull them together in a way that permits easier analysis,” said University of California-Davis veterinarian Joe Gaydos in a statement. “Ultimately, the real benefit of any health record is to help make [management] decisions.”
Gaydos also confirmed to the Associated Press that scientists will be documenting the whales’ sex, age, and gender as part of the initial data. More information will be added by 2017, as researchers continue to iron out the finer points of the initiative, including naming someone to manage the data, and deciding who gets access to it.