J52, first seen in March of 2015 and last seen in September of 2017. Image credit: Facebook/Center for Whale Research

Young endangered orca dies off B.C. coast

The whale was last seen alive near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Sept. 15, 2017

Researchers say a young member of an endangered killer whale population living off British Columbia’s coast has died.

They say J52, a male southern resident killer whale, was last spotted near the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of Vancouver Island on Sept. 15.

The young whale, 2 1/2 years old, appeared lethargic and was barely surfacing, with photos showing signs he was malnourished.

Researchers with the centre say the Chinook salmon the orcas eat have been in short supply this year.

J52 was not spotted when his pod was observed in Puget Sound off Washington state on Sept. 19 and the centre says he presumably died of malnourishment hours after he was last seen.

The scientists say there were 78 southern resident killer whales as of last December, and the centre has warned that noise, toxic contamination, and a lack of food threaten their long-term survival.

The orcas live and travel through the Salish Sea off the coast of B.C. and Washington state, and they have been studied for more than four decades, but the group’s numbers have fallen in recent years.

The centre says six new southern resident killer whales were born in 2015 and 2016, but J52 is the third of that group to die, and none of the whales born this year have survived.

J52, first seen in March of 2015 and last seen in September of 2017. The first known calf of J36, and one of the calves born during the SRKW "baby boom" of 2015/2016. https://www.whaleresearch.com/j52

Posted by Center for Whale Research on Monday, September 25, 2017

The Canadian Press