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

Four fires still burning in West Kootenay

More than 25 fires were started by lightning in the last week.

New residential building under construction at Kerr site

Ground has broken on a four-storey, 44-unit mixed use building

Castlegar police seek dawn home intruder

Man walked into house at 4 a.m., asks son about mother

Nelson woman celebrated for achievement in literacy

Paulina Mason was honoured by the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy

Eleven communities to attract newcomers to support middle-class jobs

The program includes unspecified West Kootenay communities

VIDEO: Sexting teens at risk of depression and substance abuse, Canadian study says

Use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were also found to be associated with sexting

VIDEO: Toronto Raptors announcer credited with calming crowds after shooting

Matt Devlin, the Raptors’ play-by-play announcer since 2008, was praised for preventing panic from spreading

Mini-horse visits residents at Lower Mainland care home

Gunner turned a visit with grandpa into a major event for everyone at the residence

Women sue former Vancouver cop over alleged sexual abuse during pimp case

Two women claim James Fisher caused psychological trauma during the Reza Moazami investigation

First ever Indigenous person to join the RCMP to be honoured in B.C.

Hawk Kelly said becoming a Mountie was his dream job as a kid

Deadline for cabinet to decide future of Trans Mountain expansion is today

International Trade Minister Jim Carr described the decision as ‘very significant’

Mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of B.C. inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused B.C. cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Most Read