Two southern resident orcas missing as experts fear for the population

Centre for Whale Research says one whale each is missing from the J and K pods

Two southern resident killer whales haven’t been seen for a few months leaving experts worried, not just about the fates of both creatures, but for the future of the entire family of orcas.

Just over 70 southern resident killer whales form the single group of exclusively salmon-eating orcas identified as J clan and the family is further divided into three groups, or pods, known as J, K and L.

The Centre for Whale Research said in a post that while all other killer whales from the J and K pods have been seen, one member from each pod is missing.

“We will continue to look for J17 and K25 in upcoming encounters but the chances of finding them are starting to look a little grim,” the post said.

J17 is a female born in 1977 and K25 is a male born in 1991.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, worries that the failure to spot the two whales underscores the challenges facing all southern resident orcas.

“I haven’t lost all hope but things are not looking good right now,” he said.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States released photos in May taken by a drone that showed J17 had deteriorated in health since she was assessed last fall.

She was showing the condition known as “peanut-head,” which indicates a significant loss of fat, or blubber, around the head, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Haulena agreed the population is in “huge trouble.”

“We’ve been working for a long time now with a number of different partners trying to figure out how we can turn around some of this.”

Researchers understand the basic threats to the killer whale population, which include lack of chinook salmon that they depend on, boat noise and noise in general that interferes with their ability to forage, as well as pollution that interferes with their ability to reproduce and fight off disease, Haulena said.

“But the actual individual causes of death are probably quite complicated and we’re down to the point where each of these individuals is so, so important. This population is in big trouble for sure.”

The possible loss of J17, a 42-year-old female, is especially devastating because females are crucial in the “matriarchal kind” of killer whale society where pods depend on older females for foraging, Haulena said.

“A whale from 1977 would be approaching the latter third of a normal, long life. They probably live 60-80 years if things are ideal but still, to lose one of those females that’s older like that would mean a whole lot to younger females,” he said.

A new female calf, J56, was reported a few weeks ago, but right now there are more animals being lost than being born, he said, adding that calf mortality for cetaceans can be as high as 50 per cent.

READ MORE: New rules for ships implemented to protect killer whales off B.C. coast

The killer whale population stands at 73 or 74 because of a couple of births, Haulena said.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central Okanagan residents invited to give input on regional transport plan

The plan will help Central Okanagan governments work together to connect people and places across the region

Okanagan set for thunderstorms before sunny weekend

Thunderstorms are predicted to give way to a hot, sunny weekend around Kelowna

Body of 21-year-old man found in Okanagan Lake

BC Coroners Service is investigting the circumstances of the man’s death

UBC Okanagan caps digital fees per course amid COVID-19

The UBCO student senate capped fees at $65 per class for the first winter term in 2020

Police investigate late-night truck fire in Vernon

‘At this time, investigators are treating the fire as suspicious,’ says Cpl. Tania Finn

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen pays nearly $8 million in wages

Figures included in latest Statement of Financial Information

Democracy costs Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen more than $500,000

Remuneration and expenses paid to chair, directors and alternate directors comes to $542,588

Workplace design: Are you grown up enough to work from home?

Columnist Jules Galloway is the founder/owner of Evolve Design| Build

Kelowna RCMP discover more imitation firearms used in crimes

RCMP say the fake guns can be hard to distinguish from the real ones

Dyer: Replacing dam and solar power

Research indicates Canada could replace 100% of power from dams with solar, using only 13% of the land

Airborne hot dog strikes Greater Victoria pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

Kootnekoff: CEWS expanded and extended

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

B.C. scientist, 63, protests in trees set to be removed for Trans Mountain pipeline

Tim Takaro is reaching new heights as he tries to stall the pipeline expansion project in New Westminster

Most Read