Another orca struggling to survive but others pregnant

Aerial images of adult male Southern Resident killer whale K25, taken in September 2016 (left) and September 2018 (right); the recent image shows him in poorer condition with a noticeably thinner body profile. Image in 2016 by NOAA/SWFSC and Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute and in 2018 by NOAA/SWFSC and SR3, both obtained using an unmanned drone piloted non-invasively >100ft above the whales under NMFS research permit #19091. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

PUGET SOUND — New photos are raising concerns about another ailing member of the critically endangered southern resident orca pods.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center said the new pictures show the 27-year-old orca, known as K25, looking much thinner and in poorer shape this year compared to two years ago.

Scientists said the trouble for K25 likely started with the loss of his mother, K13, in 2017, because mother whales help their children capture and share prey.

“Those females are often sharing prey, that Chinook salmon they like to eat, they share it with their sons and with their family members,” said Lynn Barre with NOAA’s Marine Mammal Authorization Program. “He may be struggling to get enough to eat following the passing of his mom.”

The good news is that right now researchers said all the J, K, and L pods in our region have pregnant orcas.

Officials don’t want them to face the same fate as J35, who carried her dead calf for weeks.

Researchers are asking boaters to give them space, even more than the federal regulations of 200 yards minimum and 400 yards if you’re in they’re path

“They use sound, they use echolocation like a bio-sonar to find that prey in their environment and catch that fish,” said Barre. “So keeping it quieter and having less of a disturbance on their foraging behavior could be critical for whales that are vulnerable or need more food.”

An orca task force is considering dozens of recommendations to try and save the critically endangered southern resident orcas.

The population is down to 74.

The final recommendations will be given to the governor in November.

Potential ideas include removing dams that block fish runs, lowering boat speeds near whales, and supporting legislation to make it easier to kill sea lions that eat salmon.

“They’re just part of our culture in the Pacific Northwest,” said Barre. “They’re important for the tribes. They’re important for tourism and commerce and they’re really just icons.

The task force is asking for public comments through October 7.

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