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An orca swims in the Pacific Northwest. Malcolm Surgenor / Flickr / Creative Commons

The U.S. Navy has secured permission for exercises in the Pacific Northwest that could harm endangered orcas and other marine mammals.

The new rule, published in the Federal Register Thursday, would allow the Navy to increase the number of Southern Resident killer whales it could "take"—or potentially harm—from two a year currently to 51 a year through 2027, The News Tribune reported.

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A captive elephant is seen at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Littlebourne, England. Suvodeb Banerjee / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Bob Jacobs

Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.

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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.

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An orca jumps in the Canary Island archipelago of Spain. Mikhail Akkuratov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Killer whales have been ramming yachts and boats off the coast of Northern Spain and researchers are puzzled by their behavior. In several attacks over the last couple of months, orcas have damaged boats and injured sailors, according to The Guardian.

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New calf J57 swims vigorously alongside its mother J35, giving researchers and whale enthusiasts hope. Katie Jones / Center for Whale Research

Two years ago, J35, a Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) nicknamed Tahlequah, broke hearts around the world when she carried her dead calf over 1,000 miles over 17 days of apparent mourning. Now, she's given birth to a "robust and lively" calf that researchers are calling a ray of hope for the endangered population, reported The New York Times.

The killer whales, also called orcas, stay off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, near Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia. According to the Marine Mammal Commission, the SRKW population may have historically numbered more than 200 animals prior to the 20th century. Their numbers plummeted due to loss of prey, opportunistic hunting prior to the 1960s and the live capture of nearly 70 Resident and Transient killer whales for marine parks from 1967 to 1971, the commission found. There were only 88 of the iconic whales left when they were listed as endangered in 2005, The New York Times reported, and the population has continued to dwindle since. The birth of the newest orca, called J57, brings the population to 73.

"It's a bit of a nail-biter right now," whale researcher Dr. Deborah Giles from the Center for Conservation Biology told The New York Times. "I can't help but be thrilled that she had this baby and this baby didn't die right away. Everybody is worried and on pins and needles, wondering if this calf is going to make it."

"With such a small population … every successful birth is hugely important for recovery," said a blog post from SR3, the marine conservation group that used drone footage to confirm J35's pregnancy in July and monitor her condition.

Several factors have hurt the population's chances of rebounding, including food scarcity, toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate, and noise pollution, the news report said.

The whales are "essentially starving," reported Smithsonian Magazine. Eighty percent of the SRKW's diet consists of Chinook salmon, the Center for Whale Research wrote. The salmon have declined "significantly" due to commercial fishing and widespread habitat destruction, according to the Marine Mammal Commission.

Government reports also found that agricultural pesticides jeopardize the survival of the salmon. Then, when the orcas eat polluted fish, the chemicals and pesticides eventually end up stored in the whales' fat, suppressing their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to disease and affecting females' ability to reproduce, reported Smithsonian Magazine.

Additionally, according to the Georgia Straight Alliance, noise disrupts the whales' echolocation and prevents them from hunting, navigating and communicating.

"Both the physical presence of vessels and associated underwater noise hinders Southern Residents' ability to perform basic life activities," the Alliance reported.

To make matters worse, many of the population's pregnancies fail, and around 40% of calves die within their first year, The New York Times reported. Recent scientific findings suggest that these reproductive failures and high calf mortality rates are linked to malnutrition and lack of their preferred salmon prey, reported the Marine Mammal Commission.

With nothing to eat and nowhere to live, the Southern Resident orcas have thus become a symbol for animals on the brink of extinction. J35 became the poster child for her population during her 17-day "tour of grief," catalyzing many groups to call for new protections for the endangered whales.

According to the Center for Whale Research, J52, another two-and-a-half-year-old calf from the J-pod, died presumably from malnutrition one ear earlier.

After the 2018 loss of J35's previous calf, Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, estimated that the SRKW population only had about five years to rebound or face irreversible decline.

"We've got at most five more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen"— meaning, to have viable offspring — "but if we don't do it in those five years it isn't going to happen," he told National Geographic in 2018.

That's why, with the birth of J57, researchers are cautiously optimistic.

The encounter report from the Center for Whale Research announcing J57's birth said, "Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life … We hope this calf is a success story."

Balcom said, "The baby looked very robust and lively, so I have good expectations for this one surviving," reported The New York Times.

He told The New York Times he hoped that recent efforts such as the removal of a dam on the Elwah River would bring back more robust runs of Chinook salmon and issue a turning point for the orcas.

"This new birth brings new hope – for Tahlequah and for all of us," wildlife photographer Alena Ebeling-Schuld told The Guardian. "I am wishing Tahlequah and her new little one the very best with all of my being."

The oldest living male in the southern resident killer whale community, L41, seen above in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is missing and feared dead. MarkMalleson / iStock / Getty Images

Yet another endangered southern resident orca is missing, and researchers fear he is dead.

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Pacific Northwest orca with Mount Baker in the background near the Strait of Georgia off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. Sergio Amiti / Moment / Getty Images

The extremely endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales off the coast of Washington and British Columbia fell to 73 after 3 orcas went missing, the Center for Whale Research said in a statement.

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An orca jumps out of the sea in Lund, British Columbia. Schaef1 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By the end of June, it will be illegal to keep whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada, the Huffington Post reported Tuesday.

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Southern resident killer whales off Vancouver Island, BC. MarkMalleson / iStock / Getty Images

A second baby orca has been born to the imperiled southern resident killer whales in less than six months.

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A new baby has been born to the southern resident killer whales, pictured here near Pender Island, BC. Chris Cheadle / All Canada Photos / Getty Images

Is there hope for the critically endangered orcas that travel the waters between Seattle and BC, Canada? The southern resident killer whales have added a new member to their shrinking numbers: a baby that Center for Whale Research (CWR) Founding Director Ken Balcomb has named Lucky.

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Southern Resident killer whale mother and her calf swimming. NOAA

With only 74 left in the wild, the Southern Resident orca population in Puget Sound needs help now more than ever. That's why on Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office announced "an unprecedented investment" to help boost the population as well as the Chinook salmon they eat.

"We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures. It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state," Inslee said in a news release. "We need to restore the ecosystem to one that sustains orcas, salmon and the quality of life for all Washingtonians."

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Masha Netrebenko / Facebook

Ninety belugas and 11 orcas are being held in tiny enclosures described by media reports as "whale jails" off Russia's Pacific east coast.

An investigation has been launched at the site near city of Nakhodka, where some of the whales have been contained since July, CBS News reported.

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Southern resident killer whales suffered a significant population decline in the late 1990s and are now listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. NOAA

With only 74 remaining in the wild, time is running out to save southern resident killer whales, especially after two died this summer.

This week, the Canadian government announced a slew of measures to save the critically endangered species. The $61.5 million (US$50 million) initiative will address three key threats to the orcas: a lack of chinook salmon, the whales' favored prey; contaminants in the water; and vessel traffic and noise that interferes with their hunting abilities, according to a news release from the Fisheries and Oceans department.

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