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.

Just Posted

Clinton man faces first degree murder charge for 2018 homicide at Deep Creek

Wyatt Boffa, 29 has been charged in the death of Jamie Sellars Baldwin, 43,

Toys for Joys helps give local children a Merry Christmas

This year’s event brought in cash donations and toys and provided donors with a hot breakfast

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Highway 1 reopens to traffic near Yale

A rockfall closed the highway for several hours

New visitor’s guide and trail map to be published, GCCS tells council

Ashcroft council looks at communications, the curling rink, mosaics, and more at recent meeting

VIDEO: Kenney lays out key demands for meeting with Trudeau

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney aims for clear signs of federal action on two-day Ottawa trip

Province sues over sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after marine lift failed

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Assessed value of Lower Mainland homes expected to decrease in 2020

Other areas of province may see modest increases over last year’s values

Chilliwack family’s therapy dog injured in hit and run

Miniature pit bull Fifty’s owner is a single mother facing close to $10,000 in vet bills

Cougar destroyed in Penticton area after mauling dog, killing cat

This is the first reported incident with a cougar this year in the Penticton area

Feds not enforcing standards on Hungarian duck imports, B.C. farmer says

‘You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag’

No reports yet of Canadians affected by New Zealand volcano eruption, feds say

Missing and injured included tourists from the U.S., China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia

Most Read