The death this week of another Puget Sound killer whale makes 2016 one of the worst in recent history for the endangered marine mammals. At least five orcas in the family group J-pod have died in the past year.
The death this week of another Puget Sound killer whale makes 2016 one of the worst in recent history for the endangered marine mammals.
The carcass of an 18-year-old male, designated J34, was seen floating Dec. 20, near the town of Sechelt north of Vancouver, B.C., according to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. The carcass was towed to land and necropsied on Dec. 21. Canadian officials said the whale suffered blunt-force trauma to the head and may have been struck by a boat while still alive.
Observers this summer noted that the animal was looking thin, said center Director Ken Balcomb.
Including the latest loss, at least five members of the famous family group called J-pod died this year, Balcomb said. The pod is part of what’s called the southern-resident killer-whale population, which was listed as endangered in 2005.
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The southern residents range throughout the inland marine waters of Washington and southern British Columbia. The latest death means the total population has dropped to 79 animals.
The other deaths this year include a mother and calf that disappeared in October, and are suspected of having been malnourished. Another adult whale perished from an infection likely caused by an unsterilized research tag.
Balcomb and his colleagues suspect the decline of chinook salmon, the animals’ main prey, is largely to blame for the deaths. But other researchers say many factors could be responsible, including vessel noise and traffic, and chemical pollution.