Another orca is sick; more orcas are pregnant

Sep 25, 2018, 2:48 PM | Updated: 5:14 pm
Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018 (right); (Image in 2016 by NOAA/SWFSC and Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute and in 2018 by NOAA/SWFSC and SR3, both obtained using an unmanned drone piloted non-invasively >100ft above the whales under NMFS research permit #19091) Aerial images of pregnant adult female Southern Resident killer whales, documented by their increased width at mid-body. Left shows J17 approximately one month prior to giving birth in 2015. (Image by NOAA/SWFSC and Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute). Right shows K27 (top whale) in September 2018, with her increased body width contrasting to that of her juvenile son (K44, bottom). (Image by NOAA/SWFSC and SR3) Both images obtained using an unmanned drone piloted non-invasively >100ft above the whales under NMFS research permits 16163 and 19091.

Two weeks after it was announced J50 was presumed dead, NOAA reports another resident orca appears to be ailing.

RELATED: Go slow and no fishing zones among initial orca recommendations

Side-by-side photography shows a 27-year-old male, K25, is noticeably thinner than in previous years. NOAA says the change in body condition coincides with the loss of K25’s mother — K13 — in 2017.  They say it likely reflects the struggle he faces without his mother’s help capturing and sharing prey.  Male orcas rely on females to help meet their energy demands and a mother’s death often initiates increased mortality rates for male adults.

On a positive note, NOAA reports K27, K25’s sister, appears to be heavily pregnant, according to aerial images. Other female orcas in all three resident pods — J, K, and L — are pregnant as well. However, there is a high rate of failed reproduction among the K pod, according to NOAA. K27 has aborted a fetus in the past.

On March 14, Gov. Inslee signed an executive order establishing the Southern Resident Orca Task Force. The group has been developing a long-term plan to aid the Southern Resident killer whales. Among the initial recommendations are slow zones for boats, studying harbor seals, and creating no fishing zones. Read more.

RELATED: Killer whale lawsuit has “pretty good case”

The presumed death of J50 captured the attention of people around the state, even prompting a memorial last week and motivation for restaurants to stop serving Chinook salmon.  The 3-year-old orca had been struggling to gain weight. Teams of scientists administered antibiotics and the Lummi Nation attempted to feed her live salmon with medication. They were trying to get close enough to administer de-wormer.

J50 was considered an important member of the Southern Resident killer whale population as a young female with the potential to reproduce.

In late July, J35 or Tahlequah, lost her female calf. She carried it for 17 days and over 1,000 miles before finally letting it go on Aug. 11.




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Another orca is sick; more orcas are pregnant