Navy sonar all but ruled out as cause of orca’s death

Exercises done by HMCS Ottawa far from where whale washed up

This orca

The Royal Canadian Navy is likely off the hook in connection with the death of an orca that washed up on a Washington state beach in February, say U.S. officials.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continues to investigate why the three-year-old killer whale, known as L112, was found battered and bruised in Long Beach, Wash. on Feb. 11.

The orca had lived with a pod of 86 endangered southern resident killer whales.

Environmentalists immediately pointed fingers at the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Ottawa, which used sonar and detonated two underwater charges during anti-submarine training in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Vancouver Island, Feb. 6.

Marine biologists say certain sonar frequencies can interrupt whales’ navigation and communication.

Though all possible causes of death, including sonar, can’t be ruled out at this stage in the investigation, U.S. officials say the animal, which likely died between Feb. 7 and 9, washed up near the mouth of the Columbia River, about 322 kilometres from Canadian waters – a great distance from where the frigate was sailing.

“It is unlikely in the extreme it died in Canadian waters and drifted south,” said Brian Gorman, the administration’s spokesperson.

“The prevailing winds and currents are all from the south to the north, and it’s virtually impossible it could have died north of Long Beach and drifted south.”

In a statement, Rear Admiral Nigel Greenwood, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, said, “HMCS Ottawa followed the (navy’s) Marine Mammal Mitigation Policy prior to and during the period when they were using ships’ sonar, and prior to deploying the small charges. There were no reports, nor indications of marine mammals in the area.”

Testing on tissue samples taken from L112 is now underway. The first wave of results are expected in the next three weeks.

However, testing doesn’t always pinpoint cause of death, Gorman cautioned.

“It is not uncommon, even with a fresh carcass and a thorough investigation and a thorough necropsy, for (investigators) to not make a definitive conclusion. This isn’t like television,” he said. “We may never know why this animal died.”

To help further its investigation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contacted the Royal Canadian Navy through the U.S. Navy, seeking details about its activities.

“When you start an investigation like this you don’t shut off any avenues,” Gorman said.

“It might have been sonar, it might have been some kind of explosion, (the orca) might have been struck by a fishing boat, it might have been caught in a net. There are dozens of different possibilities and you can’t dismiss any of those until you have reason to dismiss one or more of them.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Petition calls for suspension of Victoria councillor Ben Isitt

Isitt says petition ‘does not provide a reliable barometer of public opinion’

RCMP seek man who allegedly robbed Langford liquor store with a gun

Man described as six to six foot four tall, with slim build and light-coloured skin

Sidney dogs lose a beloved companion

Dozens gathered in Beacon Park to remember Sidney’s ‘dog whisperer’

Victoria International Airport named one of the best employers in B.C.

Cited reasons include its training programs and tuition subsidies

Thief robs Saanich liquor store at gunpoint, takes cash register

Police ask for public’s help with ongoing investigation

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you support the proposed changes for ICBC?

Tuesday’s provincial budget predicted a shift from shortfall to surplus in wake… Continue reading

Canadian Premier League announces 2020 home dates for eight-team circuit

Pacific FC hosts FC Edmonton on April 11 in Langford

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Most Read