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Latest killer whale death in Salish waters has biologists worried

By Marcus Hondro     Dec 6, 2014 in Environment
A young killer whale, believed to be a juvenile, was found dead on the shore of Vancouver Island near Courtenay on Thursday. Identified as J32, a female, the death is the fourth killer whale death in the area in recent months.
Note that after this story was filed, the necropsy was completed on Orca J32 and she was found to have a full-term fetus. They still have note determined, however, why she died. It's worrisome as marine biologists are concerned with the dwindling number of breeding females in the community of Killer whales in the Salish Sea.
A marine mammal researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium, Paul Cottrell, said that there is a concern about the endangered southern population of killer whales and that only 77 of them now reside in the Salish Sea. It's troubling, Cottrell said, and sad
"It really tugs at the heart strings. It's a magnificent animal," Cottrell said. "Sixteen feet or so, so it's likely it's a juvenile. So, it's terrible and we want to figure out what the cause of death was here and how this animal died."
The deceased Orca, J32, was towed to shore by residents who discovered its carcass and will be examined by marine biologists. It joins others known to have recently died, L53,L100 and L120. Those first two died sometime in the summer, while L120 is believed to have died in either late September of early October.
Marine biologists don't know why these killer whales died, though in the case of this latest death, they say she may have been pregnant and that may have been a factor in her death. The resident whale population in the area has been plagued by difficulties related to a lack of food, pollution in the area leading to disease and being disturbed by marine traffic in the area.
Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, WA., which keeps track of the whale community in the Salish Sea, has travelled to partake in a necropsy examination of the dead whale in an effort to discover cause of death.
“Based on historical information and clinical observations," Balcomb told media. "This whale’s death may have arisen from pregnancy or complications of birth."
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