Two southern resident killer whales 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

Just Posted

Nature Wise: How are Canada’s birds doing and do we even care?

Columnist Bob Handfield, president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club

Mix of sun and cloud for the Okanagan-Shuswap-Similkameen region

Environment Canada is forecasting a chance of showers with a risk of thunderstorms for the region

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Gusty winds and scattered clouds.

Temperatures are expected to reach the high 20s under cloudy skies.

South Okanagan real estate market continues to stabilize, millennials eager to become homeowners

SOREB President Dori Lionello said millenials are carefully watching the market

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Sun, chances of showers continue through weekend

Environment Canada forecasts mixes of sun, clouds and rain to start the weekend

VIDEO: Okanagan Valley weekday weather update

Environment Canada says it’s going to be a rainy week

Diversity a Canadian strength, Trudeau says of Trump tweets at congresswomen

Trudeau avoided using Trump’s name when he was asked about the president’s Twitter comments

Okanagan man rides bike 654km to Alberta for mental health, pipeline awareness

Cycle 2 Change 2019 was made to open up conversation about mental health and Trans-Mountain Pipeline

B.C. couple bring son home from Nigeria after long adoption delay

Kim and Clark Moran of Abbotsford spent almost a year waiting to finalize adoption of Ayo, 3

Dump truck lifts power lines causing fire near South Okanagan school

Emergency responders dealt with two incidents at the same time near KVR Middle School

Car thief to be sentenced in Kelowna B.C. Supreme Court

Stanley Nickason is set to plead guilty on multiple charges

UPDATED: Lane closed after fatal collision on Highway 97 east of Falkland

A man in his 60s is dead after a single vehicle crash on July 15

Health Canada revokes licences of B.C.-based pot producer Agrima Botanicals

The agency said it notified the company of a suspension in November due to non-compliance with regulations

Most Read