Aerial photos reveal good and bad news about B.C.’s endangered killer whales

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says one whale losing weight, others pregnant

Another southern resident killer whale is showing signs it may be sick, just one month after the struggling population that favours the B.C. coast lost one of its youngest female members known as J50.

In a statement online Wednesday, the Seattle-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a 27-year-old male known as K25 was recently spotted in aerial photographs in “notably poorer body condition.”

K25 is one of 74 remaining southern resident orcas in the world, and has been surveyed by NOAA since 2008. Three pods are known to swim along the B.C. coast, specifically near Vancouver Island, and into California.

The southern resident population has been a focal point for researchers and British Columbians alike in recent months, after a female, J35, swam while carrying her dead calf for 17 days in a unique grieving ritual.

Researchers on both sides of the border also recently worked around the clock to save a three-year-old orca known as J50. She died earlier this month after battling parasitic worms and “peanut-head syndrome,” where her head was smaller than her body, believed to be due to malnourishment.

Researchers with NOAA now suspect K25’s weight loss might be due to the death of his mother, K13, last year, making him vulnerable. Male whales rely on their mothers and other family members to help them hunt for food and meet their increased energy demands.

“While the decline in K25’s body condition is not as severe as we saw with J50 this summer, it is a warning signal,” said Lynne Barre, recovery coordinator for NOAA.

Pregnant whales leave scientists hopeful

After the two deaths of J50 and J35’s calf, scientists have cause for a more hopeful outlook for the dwindling population: a number of pregnant whales.

“The aerial photos … indicate that at least one whale in each pod is pregnant. This is vital news for this critically endangered population,” said Scott Rumsey, NOAA fisheries west coast region deputy regional administrator.

Scientists confirmed K25’s sister, K27, is “heavily pregnant,” just years after being spotted aborting a fetus.

“Whales carry their baby weight below the rib cage, just like humans, enabling later-term pregnancies to be reliably documented from aerial images of body shape,” the NOAA said.

The organization said while these developments could be good news, these orcas currently have a “high rate of reproductive failure,” with only three births in 10 years.

The Center for Whale Research will be monitoring the pregnancies. In the meantime, the organization is reminding anglers and others on the water that federal regulations limit the viewing distance for killer whales to no less than 200 metres in Canadian waters.

“We ask that vessels minimize disturbance of these pregnant whales, in addition to K25, to maximize the chances of successful pregnancies,” Rumsey said.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District offers safety tips after cougar spotted near Lake Country school

The animal was seen on a walking trail near Peter Greer Elementary Saturday morning

Emergency crews rush youth to hospital after quadding accident in West Kelowna

West Kelowna Fire Rescue’s new off-road vehicle was used in the rescue

Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for Okanagan, Shuswap

Environment Canada is forecasting strong wind gusts, large hail and heavy downpours in parts of the Interior

WorkSafe BC conducted 70 inspections in the Okanagan amid B.C.’s reopening plan

WorkSafe BC has conducted 100 inspections at restaurants across the province since May 19

West Kelowna reopens beach volleyball, new pickleball courts

The City of West Kelowna is asking residents to maintain safe distancing

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Similkameen winery co-owned by Dr. Bonnie Henry

B.C.’s provincial health officer is part of the original ownership group of Clos du Soleil in Keremeos

Shuswap man reported missing by RCMP has been found unharmed

Salmon Arm resident apologizes for having caused anyone concern

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

Preparations for flooding in the Shuswap accelerate

A sandbagging machine and a crew to run it have been set up in Silver Creek.

Most Read