Aerial photos reveal good and bad news about B.C.’s endangered killer whales

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says one whale losing weight, others pregnant

Another southern resident killer whale is showing signs it may be sick, just one month after the struggling population that favours the B.C. coast lost one of its youngest female members known as J50.

In a statement online Wednesday, the Seattle-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a 27-year-old male known as K25 was recently spotted in aerial photographs in “notably poorer body condition.”

K25 is one of 74 remaining southern resident orcas in the world, and has been surveyed by NOAA since 2008. Three pods are known to swim along the B.C. coast, specifically near Vancouver Island, and into California.

The southern resident population has been a focal point for researchers and British Columbians alike in recent months, after a female, J35, swam while carrying her dead calf for 17 days in a unique grieving ritual.

Researchers on both sides of the border also recently worked around the clock to save a three-year-old orca known as J50. She died earlier this month after battling parasitic worms and “peanut-head syndrome,” where her head was smaller than her body, believed to be due to malnourishment.

Researchers with NOAA now suspect K25’s weight loss might be due to the death of his mother, K13, last year, making him vulnerable. Male whales rely on their mothers and other family members to help them hunt for food and meet their increased energy demands.

“While the decline in K25’s body condition is not as severe as we saw with J50 this summer, it is a warning signal,” said Lynne Barre, recovery coordinator for NOAA.

Pregnant whales leave scientists hopeful

After the two deaths of J50 and J35’s calf, scientists have cause for a more hopeful outlook for the dwindling population: a number of pregnant whales.

“The aerial photos … indicate that at least one whale in each pod is pregnant. This is vital news for this critically endangered population,” said Scott Rumsey, NOAA fisheries west coast region deputy regional administrator.

Scientists confirmed K25’s sister, K27, is “heavily pregnant,” just years after being spotted aborting a fetus.

“Whales carry their baby weight below the rib cage, just like humans, enabling later-term pregnancies to be reliably documented from aerial images of body shape,” the NOAA said.

The organization said while these developments could be good news, these orcas currently have a “high rate of reproductive failure,” with only three births in 10 years.

The Center for Whale Research will be monitoring the pregnancies. In the meantime, the organization is reminding anglers and others on the water that federal regulations limit the viewing distance for killer whales to no less than 200 metres in Canadian waters.

“We ask that vessels minimize disturbance of these pregnant whales, in addition to K25, to maximize the chances of successful pregnancies,” Rumsey said.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Province launches lawsuit over Esquimalt sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after being dropped from marine lift in 2018

Colwood tops Grumpy Taxpayer$ 2019 Candy Cane Awards

Yearly awards for improved governance go to Colwood, Oak Bay, Victoria

Byelection to replace Victoria councillor set to cost more than $140,000

Staff recommend a smaller election process for March 14

North Saanich Fire Department wins national Movember challenge

Team raises more than urban Edmonton, Toronto firefighters

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

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

Cougar destroyed in Penticton area after mauling dog, killing cat

This is the first reported incident with a cougar this year in the Penticton area

Feds not enforcing standards on Hungarian duck imports, B.C. farmer says

‘You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag’

No reports yet of Canadians affected by New Zealand volcano eruption, feds say

Missing and injured included tourists from the U.S., China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia

Vancouver Island blues musician’s mother’s home burglarized and ransacked

David Gogo’s 71-year-old mother has jewelry and artwork stolen in break-in

Dance cancelled after Alberta teacher’s climate lesson prompts online threats

School district near Red Deer cancelled annual family dance due to Facebook comments

Most Read