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

Cooper captures world championship buckle

Jaret Cooper, 16, from VSS, wins novice saddle bronc event at Junior World Finals rodeo in Las Vegas

Armstrong thrift store donates plenty to health care

Bargain Bin, run by Armstrong Spallumcheen Healthcare Auxiliary, donates $40,000 to VJH Foundation

Vernon fencer on point for Canadian military team

Landrey Bickel, former Vernon School District team member, competes at World Military Games

CMHA Vernon Crisis Chat celebrates six-month milestone

With more than 20,000 calls and interactions every year, CMHA seeks more volunteers for Interior

VIDEO: Kenney lays out key demands for meeting with Trudeau

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney aims for clear signs of federal action on two-day Ottawa trip

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Assessed value of Lower Mainland homes expected to decrease in 2020

Other areas of province may see modest increases over last year’s values

Two Okanagan residents convicted and fined for hunting out of season

Both residents were convicted in a Kelowna provincial court

Book examines history of B.C. wine industry

Author Luke Whittall has studied the growth of the industry from the mid-19th century to today

Chilliwack family’s therapy dog injured in hit and run

Miniature pit bull Fifty’s owner is a single mother facing close to $10,000 in vet bills

Competitive Christmas decorating takes sarcastic turn in Princeton

It’s not uncommon for neighbours to good-naturely compete with one another when… Continue reading

Alleged Penticton shooter John Brittain waives preliminary trial

Brittain will return to court in January to schedule a trial date

B.C. government clarifies rototilling rules for Okanagan lakes

Okanagan Basin Water Board recently signed a five-year agreement for rototilling in Okanagan region

Most Read