Posted by: The ocean update | July 19, 2019

Questions linger after Canada releases report about 2016 death of endangered orca J34

July 19th, 2019 (Lynda V. Mapes). As long expected, the Canadian government confirmed Thursday blunt force trauma killed southern resident orca J34 in December 2016, as was initially reported, raising new questions about what took so long to release the findings.

The just-released report was last updated on May 23, 2017, and finds a ship strike is the “possible” (not sure) cause of the 18-year-old male orca’s death.

Ed Sibylline : blunt force trauma are not necessarly caused by a ship strike. We have two origins possible -> mechanic (ej. : collision (vessel, another congeners (it has been documented in Canaries islands)…), acoustic (sonar, air guns, blast). It’s why, when you read that the result of a necropsy is a blunt force trauma, there is NO conclusion about the exact origin. The words ‘possible” or “compatible/consistent with” are used but journalists are not always honests.

So, when authorities wait for 2,5 years before releasing a such necropsy report, we can be doubtful about the vessel collision hypothesis.

“There really is nothing new here, except they confirmed it. Why did they wait so long?” said Shari Tarantino, of the nonprofit Orca Conservancy. “It shouldn’t have taken two and a half years to get a necropsy report. It’s a lack of transparency.”

The final report affirmed the initial finding of the cause of death, said Dan Bate, spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.

J34 was dead for three to five days when he was recovered near Sechelt, B.C., north of Vancouver, on Dec. 20, 2016. The orca’s body was towed to shore and collected for a necropsy, which determined the whale had injuries consistent with a ship strike, Bate stated.

The release of the report comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Canadian government also has approved expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would increase sevenfold the traffic of oil tankers through the southern resident’s critical habitat to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The Port of Vancouver also wants to build a new shipping terminal at Roberts Bank, in the Fraser River Delta, where orcas feed.

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