Where Did the Whales Go?

The phones are silent and that’s not a good sign.

Whale researchers across the Pacific Northwest usually receive alerts on their cell phones right about now to indicate that a family of southern resident orcas have returned to their annual summer home in the Salish Sea.

The 75 critically endangered whales are a month late. Some research scientists say this is not good news. There have been many reports about these local whales, a population in dire condition as they are slowly starving to death because there is not enough Chinook salmon for them to eat.

Our southern resident killer whales, known as Jpod, Kpod, and Lpod usually spend almost a third of the year in our waters which is why we call them residents. They follow the seasonal patterns of the salmon runs, feasting on the fish from May until October.

Several of the resident whales died last year, including baby J50. The matriarch of the group, J17, made famous as she carried her dead newborn’s body for weeks last summer, is also said to be close to death. Photographs show she has “peanut-head syndrome” which is when the outline of the whale’s skull is evident, a sign of extreme malnutrition. The matriarchs play a vital role in pods as they pass along knowledge to their families.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans introduced new rules in May with regards to vessel speed and distance in the presence of orcas. But some biologists are not sure how effective those rules will be in light of the recently approved Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project where tanker traffic is projected to increase sevenfold in the oracas’ habitat.

The good news is that we don’t yet know exactly why the whales have not returned to the Salish Seas. It could possibly be because things are much better for them elsewhere, according to this news report.

Meanwhile, we wait in hopeful anticipation…

If you’d like to help Canada’s Whales, you can do so by donating to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation or to the World Wildlife Fund.