Killer whale found near Bates Beach north of Courtenay

Necropsy scheduled for Saturday to determine cause of death

  • Dec. 5, 2014 5:00 a.m.

By Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – The death of a female killer whale from a small group of endangered orcas has delivered a devastating blow to the recovery of the animals, experts say.

The body of the 18-year-old orca, identified as J-32, was spotted floating Thursday near Courtenay and Comox on the east side of Vancouver Island.

Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammal co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the death of the sexually mature female will be felt by the pod.

“It’s a huge loss,” he said Friday from Comox. “There aren’t that many breeding females and especially a young one that would have contributed for decades.”

J-32 was from the so-called southern resident pods that ply the waters off British Columbia and Washington state.

Canada and the United States have declared the whales endangered, and their critical habitat has been identified on both sides of the border in the Salish Sea, Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound.

Female orcas reach maturity at about age 15 and usually have a calf every three to five years until they reach 40 to 45 years old.

Cottrell said there were no obvious signs of death on the animal. It likely died in the last few days, he said.

A team of experts from the Fisheries Department, the Vancouver Aquarium and the B.C. Animal Health Centre will participate in a necropsy on the animal this weekend.

Dr. Peter Ross, the director of the aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, said the loss is tough for recovery efforts of the whales.

“This is profoundly disappointing for a very small population of killer whales that we’ve been watching, that everyone has been watching, for which there exists a lot of conservation concerns.”

Ross said a calf was born last September within the southern residents, but it died a few months later. It’s been a few years since the last calf was born, he added.

Ross said there is plenty of hope for the iconic orcas that thousands of people pay to watch on tour boats off B.C. and Washington every year.

“Even small populations of killer whales can thrive and they do so almost despite the odds out there in the natural world.”

The whales are smart, they socialize, they teach and they learn to adapt, he said.

“These are animals that have probably evolved an ability to survive, maybe not prosper at this juncture, but certainly survive in evolutionary terms. And they probably do so in the face of what would be potentially adverse numbers.”

Often when a killer whale dies it simply disappears into the ocean. Cottrell said researchers were very lucky that someone was able to spot J-32 and call the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network.

“This only happened because it was called in and we were able to secure the animal,” he said. “So we’re going to get some useful information from this animal.”

Just Posted

Lack of security: why Vancouver Island food production is on the decline

Big Read: agriculture a big, expensive commitment as advocates push to make us more food secure

RCMP investigate sexual assault in Courtenay

Comox Valley RCMP officers are investigating a reported sexual assault at Sandwick… Continue reading

Comox Strathcona Waste Management board approves tour of Nova Scotia advanced recycling plant

Three CVRD representatives will tour Sustane Tech. plant while in Halifax for FCM conference

Comox opts for ‘blank sheet’ when it comes to cannabis bylaw

Comox council unanimously approved a bylaw to prohibit the sale of cannabis within the town.

Big Read: locked out of the woods

Vancouver Islanders struggle to balance back country public access with private land protection

Lt.-Gov. Guichon believes she made the right decision in last B.C. election

Outgoing Lt.-Gov Judith Guichon said her most memorable moments weren’t surrounding the election

CONTEST: Win a whale-watching tour for four

Where in the world are the Snowbirds?

Alberta man dead after snowmobile collision on B.C. mountain

The incident occurred on Boulder Mountain Friday morning

B.C. parents grieving teen’s overdose death say it started with opioid prescription

Elliot Eurchuk, 16, died at his Oak Bay home Friday, after taking street drugs to sleep

16 of 20 fastest improving B.C. schools are public: Fraser Institute

Independent elementary schools remain at top of the chart in think tank’s annual report card

UPDATED: 1 person dead after highway crash in Nanoose Bay

Accident happened just before 4 p.m. near Hillview Road

NAFTA: Talks continue through weekend in scramble to get a deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called negotiations ‘perpetual’

Pulp mill fined $900,000 for leaking effluent into B.C. lake

Mackenzie Pulp Mill pleaded guilty to depositing deleterious substance into water frequented by fish

B.C.’s 2-year lobbying ban starts May 1

Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists can grant exemptions from the prohibition if public interest

Most Read