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One of oldest orcas in Puget Sound pod believed to be dead

(AP)

Scientists believe the oldest male of the Southern Resident orca K-pod is dead.

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

The whale, known as K21 and nicknamed Cappuccino, was seen swimming far behind the rest of the pod last week.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Unit says the cause of death is still undetermined, but theorize that reasons could include starvation, a chronic disease such as cancer, or both.

Cappuccino was born in 1986, which would make him 35 years old. He had no living family members within his pod, but was “adopted” by a female whale a year older than him known as K16. The average lifespan of a male orca is about 30 years.

His death drops the population of the Southern Residents down to 74, with their numbers in recent years at their lowest since the 1970s.

NOAA unveils ambitious plan to save Puget Sound’s struggling orcas

The Puget Sound region’s orcas first appeared on the endangered list in 2005, brought on by a 20% drop in its population dating back to the 1990s. Due to the species’ “relatively high mortality and low reproduction [rates]” the vulnerable population of local orcas has continued to dwindle until recently, when three new calves were born over the last year. Their primary food source — Chinook salmon — is also endangered.

The federal government enacted new protections for Southern Resident orcas last week, expanding their official habitat space from the Canadian border to Point Sur, California. It’s estimated that this adds nearly 16,000 square miles of foraging areas and migratory paths.

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