FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, a female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whale. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

More Puget Sound orcas predicted to die by summer

Photos taken of a southern resident orca known as J17 showed the female has ‘peanut head’

  • Jan. 3, 2019 11:30 a.m.

Two more Puget Sound orcas are ailing and probably will be dead by summer, according an expert on the critically endangered population that lives in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Drone photography taken this past September showed the ailing population of orcas known as the southern residents went into the winter thinner than they were when the whales arrived in the San Juan Islands last summer.

READ MORE: Killer whale calf found dead on Nootka Island only a few days old

They also are thinner than Puget Sound’s so-called northern resident population of killer whales, which have been steadily growing in population for the past 40 years in their home waters primarily in northern B.C. and southeast Alaska, where they have access to more fish and cleaner and quieter water. The northern residents gave birth to 10 new calves last year.

The Seattle Times reports Center for Whale Research founding director Ken Balcomb said photos taken of a southern resident orca known as J17 on New Year’s Eve showed the 42-year-old female has so-called peanut head — a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation. In addition a 27-year-old male known as K25 is failing, also from lack of sufficient food. He lost his mother, K13, in 2017 and is not successfully foraging on his own.

Several southern resident whales were documented to be pregnant in September, but so far there has been no sign of babies. The southern residents have not had a successful pregnancy in three years.

The southern resident population is at a 35-year low after three deaths in 2018. There are only 74 left.

Losing J17 would be a blow to the southern residents because she is a female still of reproducing age, said Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology.

Giles said she was not surprised to hear about K25. The social dynamics of the southern residents, in which older females help their pod, and especially their sons by sharing food, is both a blessing and a curse if that female dies, Giles said.

“These large, adult, hungry males benefit by the females in their family,” Giles said. “There probably is still family foraging going on, but not like he had when his mom was alive.”

The coming year is not looking any easier for the southern residents in terms of their food supply. The whales mostly eat chinook salmon.

Ocean conditions and poor river migration, with warm water and low flows, have hurt chinook salmon returns in the past several years.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Tahltan reach benefits agreement over Seabridge’s massive KSM gold mine project

$308M agreement provides additional billions for Tahltan jobs, contracts

Stumpage costs to increase on July 1

MLA John Rustad speaks about the issues faced by the B.C. forest industry

B.C. oil tanker ban squeaks through final vote in Senate

Bill C-48 bars oil tankers from loading at ports on B.C’s north coast

Q & A with Rio Tinto Operations Director

Inflows between July, 2018 and June 2019 has been the second lowest since 1956

Video shows fireworks shot at swan in Alberta

Alberta Fish and Wildlife is investigating the incident in Grande Prairie

Companies need clearer rules on workplace relationships, study suggests

One-third of Canadians have been in love at work, and half say no policy on the matter exists

‘Text neck’ causing bone spurs to grow from millennials’ skulls, researchers say

Technology use from early childhood causing abnormal bone growths in 41 per cent of young adults

B.C. teen killed by fallen tree on field trip remembered as hero

13-year-old Tai Caverhill was the first to spot the tree falling and warned his friends

Surrey RCMP raises Pride flag amid din of protesters

There were about 30 protesters on either side, and 20 Mounties doing crowd control

Should B.C. get rid of Daylight Saving Time?

The province wants to know, as state governments down south make the move

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Canadians crash out of Women’s World Cup in 0-1 loss to Sweden

Canada missed a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot

Four-year-old boy assaulted at B.C. soccer game

It happened at a weekend tournament in Ashcroft

Most Read