Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018, the recent image shows him in poorer condition with a noticeably thinner body profile.Three southern resident killer whales have been declared dead by the Center for Whale Research, bringing the population down to 73. The dead killer whales are a 42-two-year-old matriarch known as J17, a 28-year-old adult called K25, and a 29-year-old male called L84, the institute posted on its website.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018, the recent image shows him in poorer condition with a noticeably thinner body profile.Three southern resident killer whales have been declared dead by the Center for Whale Research, bringing the population down to 73. The dead killer whales are a 42-two-year-old matriarch known as J17, a 28-year-old adult called K25, and a 29-year-old male called L84, the institute posted on its website.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Three southern resident killer whales declared dead plunging population to 73

Experts had expressed fear after two southern resident killer whales, J17 and K25, hadn’t been seen for a few months

Three southern resident killer whales have been declared dead by the Center for Whale Research, bringing the population down to 73.

The dead killer whales are a 42-two-year-old matriarch known as J17, a 28-year-old adult called K25, and a 29-year-old male called L84, the institute posted on its website.

“These whales are from the extremely endangered southern resident killer whale population, that historically frequent the Salish Sea almost daily in summer months,” it said.

Experts had expressed fear after two southern resident killer whales, J17 and K25, hadn’t been seen for a few months.

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.

The organization said J17 was showing the condition known as “peanut-head,” which indicates a significant loss of fat, or blubber, around the head.

J17 is survived by two daughters and a son; K25 is survived by two sisters and a brother while L84 was the last of a matriline of eleven whales, ten of whom had died.

A little over 70 southern resident killer whales form this group of exclusively salmon-eating orcas known as J clan and the family is further divided into three groups, or pods, known as J, K and L.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, said the death of three orcas is bad news.

“That’s definitely not good, not good at all,” he said.

“You want to see those numbers heading the opposite direction so every time we lose one of these animals it really brings us closer to losing the whole population.”

Haulena said he’s hopeful that some of the measures put into place recently by the federal government can help turn things around for the animals.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a number of rules to protect these whales off British Columbia’s coast, including requiring ships to stay 400 metres away from the animals, closing a few salmon fisheries, and implementing initiatives to support habitat protection and restoration of chinook salmon.

Haulena also said he has seen a change in the behaviour of the orcas.

“I think it’s interesting … this year they are not spending nearly as much time as they usually do in the interior waters through Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait,” he said.

“The L-pod I don’t believe has entered into the Salish Sea at all this year. They’ve just been seen off the west side of Vancouver Island or at least in outer waters this summer.”

While it is hard to say for sure why there is a behavioural change, Haulena said it could be because the whales are looking for alternative places to feed or are moving away from noise.

“Maybe they found a better place to forage,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to tell but we need to look into (it).”

The Center for Whale Research says in its statement the whales now rarely visit the core waters of its designated critical habitat including Puget Sound, Georgia Strait, and the inland reach of the Strait of Juan de Fuca “due to the scarcity of suitable Chinook salmon prey.”

A new female calf, J56, was reported a few weeks ago, but Haulena had said earlier that there are more animals being lost than being born, and calf mortality for cetaceans can be as high as 50 per cent.

“I think we’re at a critical point for sure,” he said Tuesday. “I think that the population can’t afford to lose too many more and really things need to turn around soon.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

Club Phoenix Fitness in Langford is the first Island business to be ordered closed by the provincial workplace closure order put into effect April 11. It will be closed until at least April 29. (Google Streetview/Screenshot)
Langford gym first Island business to be closed by public health order

Workplace closure order can now close businesses with three or more COVID-19 cases

Steven Manchur, who lives near the proposed site of supportive housing in Central Saanich on Prosser Road, said the province has misinformed the public about the site. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Central Saanich residents protest supportive housing project

BC Housing rejects claim that project will lead to more crime

A sewage pipe is pulled along Niagara Street in James Bay in 2018 as part of the Capital Regional District’s wastewater treatment plant project. Over the next 10 years, the city will complete 78 new underground infrastructure projects, upgrading sewage, stormwater and water main pipes. (Black Press Media file photo)
Construction begins on Victoria’s 10-year pipe replacement project

78 underground infrastructure projects will cost $53.8 million

Father Marinaldo Batista, who served at Catholic parishes in Saanich and Sooke, died April 1 in Brazil from complications of COVID-19. (Facebook/St. Elizabeth Church)
Brazilian priest who served in Saanich and Sooke dies from COVID-19

Father Marinaldo Batista, 53, went to Brazil to visit his parents and died there April 1

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial into 2016 Campbell River killing underway in Victoria

Ricky Alexander is charged with the first-degree murder of John Dillon Brown

..
Abbotsford nurse at ‘breaking point’ pleads with public to take COVID-19 seriously

Instagram post urges general population to stay home, wear a mask and get vaccinated

Alex Mah of Chemainus spends a sunny day at Kin Beach reading to daughter Beatrice Mah. 3. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Vancouver Island’s mini-summer poised to fade

Cooler and damper this weekend, summer-like conditions not likely to return until late June

Nanaimo Fire Rescue investigator Mark Jonah probes the scene of a blaze that destroyed two apartments on Sunday, April 18. The cause of the blaze has not been determined. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Arson suspect arrested after apartment fire in Nanaimo

35-year-old man arrested for allegedly starting fire lived in the complex

A wildfire has started near Gold River, and B.C. Wildfire Service crews are on scene. Photo courtesy Coastal Fire Centre
Small wildfire burning in difficult terrain near Gold River

Coastal Fire Centre investigating, but confirms blaze is human-caused

FILE – Health-care workers wave to people clapping and yelling thank you to the frontline workers during the 7 p.m.-tribute outside the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. nurses issue plea for all to follow health orders as hospitalizations spike

Nurses worried about strain COVID-19 is having on hospital capacity, care

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark. (Black Press Media files)
Former B.C. premier to testify at money laundering hearing today

Attorney General David Eby has been added to the witness list as well

Most Read