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Scientists haven’t had ‘a good look at J-pod’ of orcas in last three months

Southern resident orcas. (AP file photo)

Scientists who study the pods of orcas that call Puget Sound their home are starting to get concerned about the 24-member “J”-pod.

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“Here we are in the middle of July, getting toward the end of July, and we haven’t seen J-pod in 100 consecutive days now here around the San Juan Islands. That’s just unprecedented for this time of year,” said Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute.

She says J-pod is usually swimming and feasting on Fraser River chinook salmon from May through September in Puget Sound.

“It’s all related to the crossing of the chinook salmon stock on the Fraser River. That’s their primary food source. And without those fish, there’s just no reason for the whales to come in,” she said.

When the orcas were last seen in April, there were two new calves. At the time, they were doing well, and Wieland Shields says were “looking robust, and were active, and everything looked good.”

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“Other than a few photos from brief encounters folks have had on the outer coast, we really haven’t had a good look at J-pod in the last three months,” she said.

It’s presumed that J-pod is somewhere off the Washington or British Columbia coast.

“Things have just become so much less predictable with the southern residents where we really don’t know what they’re going to do from year to year, whereas they used to be incredibly predictable,” Wieland Shield said.

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