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

North Cowichan to add three more off-leash dog areas in the new year. (File photo)
North Cowichan adds three new off-leash areas

Trial program runs through 2021, but not the summer months

Principal Marie-Claude Carrier has overseen the opening of the Cowichan Valley’s first francophone school. (Citizen file)
Registration now open for Duncan Francophone school

École francophone de Duncan opened last fall with six students

Reggie went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park on Jan. 3 and owner Brittny Bukva is hoping for his safe return. (Submitted)
Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Workers prepare to take down 28 large trees on private property on Mill Bay Road this week after they were intentionally poisoned almost two years ago. (Submitted photo)
Still no charges over poisoning of trees in Mill Bay

It’s been almost two years since incident involving 28 large trees

Cory Harrington has been found. (Submitted photo)
Missing Lake Cowichan man located

Cory Harrington was last seen on Dec. 11

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Updated: Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Inmates at Metchosin’s William Head Institution are being given COVID-19 vaccines as part of the first phase. Around 600 inmates will be vaccinated in the coming days. (Black Press Media file photo)
William Head prison inmates in receive first doses of COVID vaccine

Priority set for older inmates and those with underlying medical conditions

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A water taxi at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man arrested after stolen water taxi raced up Victoria’s Gorge Waterway

Man is facing recommended charges of theft over $5,000 after leading police on marine chase

A mattress on fire gutted the second floor hallway at Town Park Apartments C-block Jan. 17. (Port Hardy Fire Rescue images)
‘Suspicious’ Port Hardy apartment fire could keep tenants out of their homes for months

A burning mattress created smoke and heat, causing several tenants to jump from windows

Most Read