New effort will analyze genes of endangered Northwest orcas

SEATTLE (AP) — A new scientific effort will sequence the genes of critically endangered orcas of the Pacific Northwest to potentially find ways to save them.

The collaboration announced Thursday involves scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and BGI, a global genomics company.

The project will sequence the full genome — the entire genetic code of a living thing — of more than 100 southern resident killer whales using samples collected over the past two decades. Initial results are expected next year.

Scientists say the information could help explain whether internal factors such as inbreeding or genetic variation in immune systems are preventing the whales from rebounding.

The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and a dearth of their preferred prey, chinook salmon. There are only 74 in the group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years.