Bad breath: Study finds array of bacteria when orcas exhale

New calf reportedly born in endangered orca pod
File photo

A new study raises concerns about the potential role of infectious diseases as a major stress factor among endangered orcas.

To study what endangered Puget Sound orcas breathe in, scientists followed the whales as they swam in Washington state waters and waited for them to surface and exhale.

Researchers on boats would swing a 25-foot long pole, with petri dishes attached, above the orca’s blowhole to capture the droplets that sprayed out. Samples were taken over four years.

The study published online Friday in the journal Scientific Reports identifies an array of bacteria and fungi in the exhaled breath of the small population of orcas.

The number of Puget Sound orcas has fluctuated in recent decades as they are threatened by lack of prey, pollution and noise disturbance from vessels.