The Story of the Dead Orcas

We here at SeaLuxe headquarters are saddened to learn of the death of three orcas from our struggling southern resident population.

Scoter (K25) in happier days. RIP. Photo courtesy of Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research

Scoter (K25) in happier days. RIP. Photo courtesy of Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research

The Center for Whale Research announced on August 6th that an orca from each of the three endangered pods was missing and presumed dead. Sadly, it wasn’t a big surprise.

Scientists were alarmed this past winter when they discovered a pronounced peanut head on orca Princess Angeline otherwise known as J17. It’s a condition the species develops when they’re emaciated. She lived to the age of 42 which may sound like a good length of time until you realize that her predecessors lived nearly twice as long (Granny lived to 106 years old!).

Princess Angeline is the mother of Tahlequah (J35) who carried her dead calf on her head for 17 days in July 2018.

“We reported that J17 was not in good body condition last winter, perhaps from stress,” stated a press release from the Centre of Whale Research. “She is survived by two daughters and a son, J35, J53, and J44, respectively.”

The two other whales presumed dead are Scoter (K25) and Nyssa (L84). Scoter had lost his mother, K13, during the winter of 2017 and without his mother to assist in hunting (young orcas rely on their mothers for this) he had to fend for himself.

Nyssa has been missing all summer and is part of the L pod.

The orcas survive on Chinook salmon and there isn’t enough to sustain the population of now 73 orcas. The whales are starving to death. Hunting is also impaired by increased vessel traffic on the waters as engine noise interferes with the whale’s ability to use echolocation which is how they locate salmon.

However, a bit of good news: all three pods were spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island last weekend along with two babies. J31 and her calf J56 were seen along with L124 and mother L77. This is especially good news as the population has not experienced a successful birth since 2016 and, since then, 13 southern residents have been declared missing and presumed dead according to World Wildlife Fund Canada.

If you would like to join in to help save our orcas, the best way is by supporting local organizations that are leading the way when it comes to marine conservation.

The WWF has been working to support quiet oceans for marine species on the Pacific coast and have actively been bringing together researchers, policy makers, and industry spokespeople to explore solutions to reduce underwater noise pollution. In 2018 the WWF joined a coalition of conservation organizations to pressure the government to take action. The results from this advocating has resulted in limiting Chinook fishing, enacting some foraging area closures and sanctuary zones as well as reducing speeds for marine vessels.

You can donate to the WWF here. The really cool thing about this is there are several donation methods such as by way of wedding registries, in memoriam gifts, as well as birthday gifts (perfect for the animal/nature lover who has everything).

The Center for Whale Research based out of Friday Harbor in Washington State is also another good one. You can donate, sign petitions, speak out, and educate others right here. 

This petition right here interests us a lot. It calls for breaching the Lower Snake River Dams which would recover wild salmon on the Snake River thus providing more food for the orcas which, as we know travel up and down the Pacific Coast. But, as Canadians, we don’t hear about these sorts of efforts. Even though this is relatively close geographically, a border separates us.

We are behind supporting the people who are fighting the good fight. We encourage you, if you have the means, to do the same.

“I’m not going to count them to zero, at least not quietly,” said Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research founder & Senior Scientist.