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2016 has been the deadliest year for orca whales

(Capt. Michael Colahan - Island Adventures and Pangea Pictures)

Orca enthusiasts gathered on the shores of Seattle’s Akli Beach Tuesday evening to hold a candlelight vigil for those lost over the past year.

That’s because 2016 has been the deadliest year for Southern Resident killer whales in two decades.

Related: Food scarcity could threaten NW orcas

Three Seattle vigils were held Tuesday to pay tribute to those lost and also to send a message to protect the surviving orca.

“This population of animals cannot afford to lose any more of their breeding females if we hope to see them in future years,” said vigil organizer Rachel Carbary.

“We could not save J34, J28, J54, L95, J14, or J55,” she said listing off the titles of the whales who died over the past year. “Let’s work together to save the rest.”

Southern resident orca

According to KIRO 7, not all of the six whales that passed away in 2016 have been found. Those who have been recovered died from various causes, including disease, blunt force trauma and starvation. The most recent death occurred last week. An orca washed up on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.

There are only 79 Southern Resident orca left in the region. KIRO 7 reports that their diet consists of primarily Chinook salmon – a population that has decreased by half since the 1980s.

Orca advocates are urging state lawmakers to take steps to protect salmon and killer-whale populations, including removing dams on the lower Snake River where many fish spawn.

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