VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Photos recently released by researchers in Washington State show the health of a local endangered orca is still in decline.
The southern resident killer whale matriarch’s condition is being described as “very poor” by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Photos show the 42-year-old whale, known as J17, demonstrating what is known as “peanut-head,” indicating a significant loss of blubber. The researchers noticed she had started deteriorating a few years ago. Her three-year-old calf has also “declined in condition,” they say.
In January, researchers predicted the whale could be one of two whales in Puget Sound to die by the summer.
The southern resident killer whale population is at a 35-year-low. Only 75 southern residents remain off our coast
Dr. Paul Spong of Orca Lab, situated on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait, says he was alarmed by the photos.
“Well, I call them disturbing. J17 is not doing well at all. That’s very concerning, of course,” he says.
Southern residents live on chinook salmon. Spong believes the appearance of the struggling whale is a call to action.
“It’s a clear sign that something really needs to be done. The most important thing to do is allow them to get the food they need to thrive,” he says.
“Stop the commercial fishery, stop the sports fishery and stop the Aboriginal fishery. Give it up for the orcas, is what I’ve been advocating.”
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The NOAA researchers say they do not plan to intervene with the orca but will gather more information and evaluate the options.
J-pod lost a three-year-old calf last year despite efforts to keep her alive, and a mother orca gained worldwide attention while carrying her dead calf for weeks.
Calf born early this year still alive
Meanwhile, there is some good news on the orca front. The calf born in the L-pod in January is still alive.
“The baby was sighted a couple of weeks ago off Monterey, California. It looked okay,” says Spong. He says it will be a while before scientists determine whether it’s a boy or a girl, but researchers are keen on watching the calf over the next few months.
“Until this baby was born there hasn’t been a baby that has survived beyond three years,” explains Spong, adding if it survives a whole year, there’s a very good chance it will make it.