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

Just Posted

Snowfall warning for Kootenay and Paulson passes

Up to 30 cm expected in mountain passes Saturday and Sunday.

Community Futures launches cannabis consultation program

The Cannabis Business Transition Initiative helps businesses move into the legal economy

Moose tests positive for Chronic Wasting Disease in northwest Montana

This is the first time the disease has been detected in the species in Montana

Castlegar woman to appear on Dragons’ Den

Happy Gut sells water kefir beverages and kits to make water kefir at home.

Green candidate reflects on South Okanagan-West Kootenay campaign

Rosslander Tara Howse talks about the highs and lows of running for office

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

UPDATED: Vancouver Island’s Joe gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty case

Melissa Tooshley expected in court on Thursday in same case

Nineteen boats carrying invasive mussels stopped at B.C. borders

Waters of Columbia-Shuswap still test mussel-free

Woman ‘horrified’ after being told to trek 200 kilometres home from Kamloops hospital

‘I can’t get from Kamloops back to 100 Mile House injured, confused… no shoes, no clothes whatsoever’

Canadian universities encourage exchange students in Hong Kong to head home

UBC said 11 of its 32 students completing programs in Hong Kong have already left

Midget no more: Sweeping division name changes coming to minor hockey in Canada

Alpha-numeric division names will be used for the 2020-2021 season and beyond

Duncan man gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty trial

Joe also gets lifetime ban on owning animals

B.C. pushes for greater industry ‘transparency’ in gasoline pricing

Legislation responds to fuel price gap of up to 13 cents

B.C. woman ordered to return dog to ex-boyfriend for $2,000

After the two broke up, documents state, they agree to share custody of the dog, named Harlen

Most Read