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New baby orca, other discoveries made by tracking team

March 5, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) — A new baby orca wasn’t the only interesting discovery researchers made while tracking endangered killer whales.

Researchers aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel returned to Oregon earlier this week with a wealth of new data about the whales and their ocean environment.

The information was gained after NOAA Fisheries researchers followed the giant marine mammals for 21 days to find out where they go during the winter, what they eat, and what risks they encounter.

The data and other research will help determine what critical areas offshore need to be protected for the whales, researchers said during a briefing Thursday.

The study came as the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering whether to expand protections for the orcas to include offshore areas from Washington state to California.

The agency has already designated inland waters of Washington as critical to orca conservation.

Using satellite tags, the team tracked the orcas as they swam about 100 miles (160 kilometers) or so, mostly along the Washington coast and as far south as central Oregon.

The trip that began Feb. 11 provided a unique opportunity to spend up to 24 hours at a time observing the whales, listening to their sounds and collecting samples of what they eat and expel.

Orcas were listed as endangered in 2005. Local and regional efforts began in the 2000s to save them.

The satellite tagging project, research cruises and other efforts are helping scientists fill in the gaps about their travels and diet.

Among the highlights was the discovery of the new baby orca off the coast of Washington in late February, the third such baby documented this winter.

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