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

Core funding to boost spending on tourism services for Rossland

Resort Municipalities grants will pay for a public washroom, better signage, and shuttle services

Passenger counts still rising at West Kootenay Regional Airport

Reliability rates also on rise in second quarter.

Third cannabis store in Greater Trail opens next week

The City of Trail has had six applications from non-medical pot retailers to date

Last stop: The inside story of Queen City Shuttle and Charters’ closure

Former employees open up about the Nelson company’s final days

How the Queen City Shuttle and Charters’ closure affected you

Here’s what readers had to say about the company’s shutdown

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

Body, burning truck found near northern B.C. town

RCMP unsure if the two separate discoveries are related

Couple found dead along northern B.C. highway in double homicide

Woman from the U.S. and man from Australia found dead near Liard Hot Springs

UPDATE: West Kelowna fawn euthanized, not claimed by sanctuary

Gilbert the deer has been euthanized after a suitable home was not found in time

BC Wildfire Service warns wet weather no reason to be complacent

Fire risk currently low for much of B.C. compared to same time over last two years.

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

B.C. man pleads guilty in snake venom death of toddler

Plea comes more than five years after the incident in North Vancouver

Trudeau says Ottawa open to proposals for B.C. refinery as gas prices soar

Prime minister says he knows B.C. residents are struggling and the federal government is open to ideas

Clock’s ticking to share how you feel about Daylight Saving Time in B.C.

Provincial public survey ends at 4 p.m. on Friday

Most Read