August 7, 2019
By Lynda V. Mapes
Three more southern resident orcas are reported missing and presumed dead, according to the Center for Whale Research.
Ken Balcomb, founding director of the center, said the missing whales are J17, K25 and L84. In his annual population survey, Balcomb reported the population of endangered southern residents is now 73.
Due to the scarcity of suitable chinook-salmon prey, the southern residents also rarely visit the core waters of their designated critical habitat: Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and the inland reach of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
It has been more than a month since the whales have been seen in their summer waters, and L pod has not been in the inland waters of the Salish Sea this summer.
J17 is a 42-year-old J pod matriarch and mother of Tahlequah (J35), who carried her dead calf for an unprecedented 17 days last year. She was reportedly not in good body condition last winter, perhaps from stress. She is survived by two daughters, J35 and J53, and son J44.
Her death puts her family at risk because older female whales help feed their families. Sons in particular, at any age, are eight times more likely to die within a year if they lose their mothers.
Also missing is 28-year-old K25, an adult male who was not in good body condition last winter. He is survived by two sisters, K20 and K27, and a brother, K34.
A 29-year-old male, L84, has been missing all summer. L pod has not come into the Salish Sea yet this summer. L84 was the last surviving member of a matriline of 11 whales.
The population of southern residents is now the lowest it has been since the live-capture era ended in the 1970s.
The whales are declining because of lack of adequate food, particularly chinook salmon; disturbance and noise by boats; and toxins in their environment.