March 25th, 2016 (Wanyee Li, Jesse Johnston). A killer whale calf has been found dead near Sooke, B.C., says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
DFO spokesperson Paul Cottrell said the carcass was spotted earlier this week near Sooke Point but was only located today. The southern resident population of about 85 killer whales has seen a baby boom in recent years, with nine orcas being born since December 2014.
One calf from J-pod went missing in February and is presumed dead. Researchers are still working to determine which pod the orca found Friday was from.
“We have taken photographs of the dorsal fin and sent that to experts as well to see if they can determine where it’s from because they’re quite a catalogue of all the new calves we have around,” said Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator for the DFO.
He described the animal as a young female that was just over two metres in length. A preliminary investigation showed the orca was emaciated and had an infection.
Chinook salmon are a staple in this population’s diet according to researchers.
“In a good salmon year there’s plenty to eat. In a poor salmon year they’re on the edge,” Lance Barrett-Lennard, a marine mammal specialist with the Vancouver Aquarium told CBC last year.
Despite the recent births, the population is still at risk, he said.
“We think part of the reason that reproduction is so low is because of food supply and fluctuations in food supply.”
Scientists say the mortality rate for newborn killer whales is high, with up to half failing to survive their first year.
A necropsy was scheduled for Friday afternoon to determine the cause of death.