BREMERTON, Wash. -- Federal biologists are proposing to track Puget Sound's endangered orcas by using tiny satellite transmitters, attached to the whales' dorsal fins with a dart fired from an airgun.
The new study is considered important because the transmitters may stay on for up to three months and help researchers identify unknown forage areas. Protecting areas where the three pods of killer whales hunt for food during winter could be a key to restoring this population of fish-eating orcas, known as "Southern Residents."
Darting the whales is considered the best way of attaching the transmitters with current technology, according to Brad Hanson, principal investigator with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. The technique has been used with no apparent harm on many species of whales and dolphins, including seal-eating transient killer whales.