Southern resident orca grandmother missing and likely dead
The Center for Whale Research said an orca in one of Puget Sound’s endangered southern resident killer whale groups is “extirpated and probably dead.”
The Bellingham Herald reports mother and grandmother L47, or Marina as she was also called, were missing from the centre’s 2021 census, according to a press release on Monday, and she has not been spotted since February 27.
The 47-year-old killer whale “did not appear to be in particularly bad shape” during this sighting, but it was absent from this summer’s surveys conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, a plan d water separating Washington State from Canada.
The Center for Whale Research said it had six encounters with L47’s matrilineal woman and photographed all of her offspring without finding her. “Its repeated absence meets our criteria for declaring a whale missing and probably dead,” the statement said.
Marina was born in 1974 and was among the southern resident’s most prolific females, giving birth to seven calves that survived long enough to receive an alphanumeric designation, the researchers said.
Four of the calves did not survive beyond their first year, but three – L83, (Moonlight), L91 (Muncher) and L115 (Mystic) – are still alive. L115 is a male, while females L83 and L91 are raising their sons, L110 (Midnight) and L122 (Magic).
“As a mother and grandmother, the death of L47 can have serious consequences,” the researchers said. “Data from the Center for Whale Research shows that older and post-reproductive women occupy key leadership roles in this society, especially when food is scarce. “
According to the center, L115 has a three times higher risk of death over the next two years than a man of the same age whose mother is still alive, while L47’s grandchildren face a six-fold increase of their chances of dying over the next two years. These risks will increase even more if the abundance of salmon decreases.
In July, the endangered killer whales received new habitat protections from the U.S. government. While conservationists have praised the action, many have also called for the protection of salmon habitat to help the recovery of the killer whale.
With the loss of L47 and the oldest southern resident male killer whale known as K21 or Cappuccino, the current southern resident population is 73. Researchers said this week after presuming K21 was dead this summer , they could now confirm the death, as their teams have done on several occasions counted all of Group K without finding the 35-year-old whale.
The oldest recorded Southern resident was J2, or Mamie, who lived to be 105 years old.