Category Archives: Dolphins, porpoises, toothed whales

Is the captive Southern Resident orca Lolita dying?

Miami 6 February 2022 – PETA has just learned from confidential sources of egregious developments and animal failings at the Miami Seaquarium. Beloved Lolita the orca—whose small, shallow, barren concrete tank has been closed to the public for months—is reportedly suffering from pneumonia and is in danger of not receiving adequate care. The current attending veterinarian, Shelby Loos, reportedly possessed no orca experience when she was hired in 2019. She left in 2020 but was rehired last year after the Seaquarium fired its longtime head veterinarian after she expressed concern about the extent of animal suffering at the park.

“Lolita has suffered for five decades in this despicable animal prison, and if she has pneumonia, that greatly increases the risk of dying she faces in this inadequate facility,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the Seaquarium to shut down before any more sentient beings suffer and die in its tiny tanks.”

The whistleblowers also shared with PETA horrific photographs of Abaco, a 19-year-old dolphin who drowned after his rostrum became entangled in a net separating two pools and, as his necropsy revealed, had also incurred injuries from being attacked by incompatible dolphins. Abaco was one of six animals who died at the Seaquarium in 2019 and 2020, all from trauma-related causes—including to the head and neck with hemorrhaging.

In September, PETA obtained a damning 17-page federal inspection report revealing a slew of animal welfare violations at the Seaquarium, including that it had failed to provide Lolita and several other animals with sufficient shade, leaving them in direct sunlight, which can cause painful damage to their eyes. This is the first time the USDA cited the facility for insufficient shade, even though PETA has been raising the issue for years. Lolita has been held alone there for more than 40 years. She displays repetitive and abnormal behavior, which, according to marine mammal experts, indicates severe psychological trauma. The Seaquarium is currently under further investigation by the USDA.

From Peta’s media release

75 beluga whales to get a boat ride to freedom in Russia

Captive belugas held in icy pens last winter are headed to freedom.
The All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography” (VNIRO) has made arrangements to release the last of the nearly 100 belugas and 10 killer whales into the wild after their capture was found to be illegal. While the previous releases involved long transport by container trucks and barges, weather conditions have caused the fisheries service to find a different path to freedom for the remaining whales.

 

[Background information can be found here, and updates on the condition of the captive orcas and belugas now living in the wild can be found here].

 

September 26, 2019

BELUGA WHALES WILL TRAVEL BY SEA

The research vessel VNIRO will take on board a group of belugas from Srednyaya Bay.

Animals are planned to be delivered to the Sakhalin Gulf to the coast of the Khabarovsk Territory in the area where beluga whales and killer whales were previously released as part of re-adaptation and release of marine mammals into the natural environment. The road from the bay to the place of release will take about three days.
The change in the method of transportation and release of animals was caused by the flood on the Amur River, the deterioration of roads in the Khabarovsk Territory due to heavy rains and the closure of a number of sections after flooding, which did not allow transportation according to the established scheme “motor transport / barge / motor vehicle”. Because of this, the beginning of the next operation to release animals had to be constantly postponed.
“Science has already had successful experience in releasing animals from a vessel,” said Alexey Baitalyuk, deputy director of the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, head of the Pacific branch of VNIRO. – We expect that the whole process will be successful and no weather conditions will hinder us. Transportation of animals will begin in the very near future. ”
Special baths have been prepared for belugas, in which they will feel comfortable throughout the entire route. The animals will be accompanied by specialists from the Pacific branch of VNIRO and veterinarians who will monitor their health.
VNIRO Press Service

Satellite tracks of two of the other freed belugas 9 Sept 2019, in the region where the remaining whales will be released.

 
Image credit: VNIRO

A second freed captive orca has found her family; updates on the other released Russian whales

Mixed news on the young captive orcas who were released back into the wild in Russia – while a second released orca appears to be traveling with wild killer whales, the group of four seems to have disbanded somewhat. Two of the released belugas are in an area with wild whales.

Zina with wild orcas 9 Sept 2019. Photo Credit: VNIRO

On the plus side, scientists of the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) and the Institute of Ecology and Evolution Severtsov Russian Academy of Sciences (IPEE RAS) have determined that a second released captive orca is now traveling with wild whales.  From VNIRO:

During monitoring conducted on catamarans in the Shantar Islands, scientists observed a family of wild killer whales off the coast of the South Shantar archipelago. The group had at least 14 killer whales, which they managed to photograph. After a careful analysis of the photographs and their comparison with the photograph and description of animals from Srednyaya Bay, it was noted that one of the killer whales in the group has characteristic scars of the selected mark. Individual signs made it possible to identify this killer whale as Zina, released in the second installment on August 6. The animal got rid of the [satellite tag] that it was set upon release.
“Some killer whales from the wild family in which Zina was met were previously identified, included in photo catalogs and there is biological information on them,” said Vyacheslav Bizikov, deputy director for research at VNIRO. “They are classified as a carnivorous ecotype.”

The first orca who was accepted by a group of wild whales, a young female named Vasilievna, was documented hunting and sharing food with them on August 20th.
With only tracking data, it’s difficult to assess the situation of the group of four (Alexandra, Tikhon, Zoya, and Gayka) who reportedly stayed together for 10 days. The young male, Tikhon, has traveled south either alone or in the company of wild whales. The three females remain in the same general area either together, or within an easy day’s travel distance (approximately 50 miles (80 km) from each other).
Alexandra’s path (green dot with the number 3) coincides with another orca’s track so they may have traveled together at the last location on September 7th.
Because visual documentation hasn’t been reported, all we know for certain is that they are near each other in the same area as wild orcas and appear to be thriving. But that alone is good news!

According to the latest data from satellite tags, killer whales from the third issue of Zoya, Tikhon and Gadget, as well as the younger female Alexander from the second issue, who joined them, moved together for about 10 days. Then the group broke up and now three females Zoya, Gadget and Alexander are located near the island of Feklistov of the Shantar archipelago, the male Tikhon went to the Tugursky Bay.
Killer whales Kharya and Forest, having traveled from Cape Perovsky past Sakhalin Island to the open sea, returned to Sakhalin Gulf.

Forest and Kharya location 9 Sept 2019. Image Credit: VNIRO

Little has been reported on the 12 belugas who were released, but tracking data shows that at least two of them are in the same area as Tikhon:

Two belugas from the fourth issue with [tags] are also located in the Sakhalin Gulf. In this area, scientists and fishermen noted the appearance of wild killer whales and beluga whales. (Press – Service VNIRO).

Location of two belugas 9 Sept 2019.  Image Credit: VNIRO

All 10 killer whales and 12 of the captive belugas have been successfully released into the wild

In an unprecedented effort, the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) orchestrated the release of ten young orcas and a dozen belugas who had been destined for a life in captivity having been illegally caught a year ago. Starting in July the orcas were trucked and barged in groups of two or three over hundreds of miles to be returned to their ocean home. (Background information can be found here). The belugas were moved in two groups of six.

Harju and Forest have been released to the wild in Russia. The orca on the right may have cream over sensitive or scarred tissue.       Photo Credit: VNIRO
The challenges were extreme for the crews as well as for the whales, from heat to nearly flood conditions. Tons of ice had to be obtained to keep the animals cool, and they had to be protected from the sun while they spent an average of 5 days in small containers.
Whale experts from around the world freely gave advice, and organizations such as Greenpeace readily participated when they had the opportunity.
Satellite tags were applied to most of the orcas and some of the belugas, which has allowed the scientists to follow at least one member in each group. The scientists plan to follow Harju and Forest for a few days and hopefully will have updates on the rest, but as of August 25th, the young Alexsandra was only about 15 miles (25 km) from the two other orcas she was released with. Orcas have been documented to swim 100 miles in a day, so she may have caught up with the others already if that was her intention.

Animals traveled 1800 km from the Srednaya Bay of Primorsky Krai to the coast of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, which lasted 5 days. Despite the difficulties associated with the difficult traffic situation in Primorye, caused by long rains, high water and rising water levels in the Amur River, the [whales] were successfully delivered to the place of release.

Photo Credit: VNIRO

The two killer whales, a female named Harju and a male named Forest, were released together from a specially designed pen on a catamaran after they were massaged to restore their muscle tone.

 They circled for some time near the shore, and then together went into the northern part of the bay. Their behavior is currently being monitored by VNIRO scientists who will accompany animals in the first days of their stay in the wild.
After the killer whales moved away from the place of release to a safe distance, the preparation and release of beluga whales began.

Photo Credit: VNIRO

They were released alternately directly near the coast. First, the crane lowered the stretcher in which the animal was located on a soft mat on the shore. Here, scientists took measurements of belugas, took a blood, tissue and [breath] analysis, after which the crane lifted the stretcher and lowered it into the water near the shore to a depth of 1.5 m, where two trainers helped the animal to get out of the stretcher so as not to damage the fins.

Photo Credit: VNIRO

The belugas dove underwater and although it was impossible to see them, two of the larger whales have satellite tags and can be followed by scientists.
There are approximately 80 belugas left in the pens in Strednaya, all of which are scheduled for release before winter sets in.
The whales were captured and released in the Sea of Okhotsk, and held for a year in Srednaya Bay. Image credit: timesUK.co

Alexandra’s latest position (upper red dot) and the two others (green dot). Image Credit: VNIRO

The last 2 captive orcas are on their way to freedom in Russia, along with 6 belugas (updated)

UPDATE  23 August 2019:

Upon arrival at the port, the [whales] were given time to rest after a grueling road lasting more than 19 hours due to the difficult traffic situation in Primorye caused by long rains. In some sections of the route, the convoy was forced to move at a speed of 5-10 km per hour. Despite the long journey, veterinarians noted that killer whales and beluga whales carried it with minimal stress.
The fourth batch of animals includes 2 killer whales – an eight-year-old female named Kharya and a six-year-old male Forest. In Srednyaya Bay, they were always together in the same [enclosure]. The beluga includes 3 males and 3 females. The age of the animals is from 3 to 6 years. A balanced group was selected for the release, both from older and younger individuals.
On Monday, the ship will come to the village. Innokentyevka of the Nikolaev district, where the animals will be changed water and reloaded onto cars for further transportation to the coast of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk. Veterinarians, trainers and scientists of VNIRO will monitor the state of health throughout the river stage of the journey.
VNIRO Press Service

Alexandra and other released captives are reported to be thriving in the wild.

The whales were captured by companies that used loopholes in the law to obtain permits. Because the permits did not allow capture for the purpose of display, the Russian government ordered that all of the whales be returned to the wild.  For more background information, please see Saving the lonely orca calf, Alexandra: What are her options? (Videos).
There are few details to share at this point, and there is no mention of Greenpeace observers for this final killer whale release. However, the Russian fisheries service (VNIRO) reports that all the whales were given health inspections and are strong enough to withstand the long journey to freedom. They also maintain that all eight of the previously released whales have adapted back to life in the wild, in spite of the stressful travel. Two of the orcas don’t have functioning tags but the rest have been located.
The transportation of the whales has been streamlined, the first group endured a week in small containers, but if the weather holds this trip will take about four days.
This is the second group of belugas to be released, leaving approximately 80 awaiting return to the wild.

From VNIRO:

On August 22, the fourth stage of the joint operation of VNIRO [Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography] and specialists in the release of animals from Srednyaya Bay into the natural environment began. 2 killer whales and 6 belugas were loaded onto vehicles and, as a convoy, escorted by the traffic police, went to Khabarovsk.
These are the last killer whales, male and female, which were in the adaptation center. The condition of the animals, which have a long journey, was evaluated by the veterinarians as satisfactory. Behind them, as in previous times, professional supervision by veterinarians, VNIRO scientists and trainers will be conducted throughout the entire road.
Tomorrow afternoon, the convoy will arrive in Khabarovsk and the next stage of the journey, the animals will pass on the ship along the Amur River to Nikolaevsk-on-Amur.

Capture and release sites. Image credit: timesUK.co

Recently captured young orcas and belugas now face danger as their pens freeze over

It should be noted that an earlier assessment of this “adaptation center” was conducted exactly a month prior (on December 19, 2018), with the help of other specialized experts. It had been organized by the Primorsky Office of the Investigative Committee of Russia, which then reported that all animals were in good condition—although the number of beluga whales was three less than earlier reported. The December assessment claimed that nothing was threatening the life or health of the remaining whales. The same representatives of this Investigative Committee also noted that the bay, in which the animal enclosures are located, does not freeze over in winter.

PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF AN EXPERT EXAMINATION OF ORCAS AND BELUGAS HELD IN THE “ADAPTATION CENTER” AT SREDNYAYA BAY
January 24, 2019. At the end of last week a team led by the local Border (Coast) Guard Service of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of Russia went out to assess the “center for the adaptation of marine mammals” in Srednyaya Bay, near Nakhodka (in Primorsky Krai)—a site that is better known as the “whale jail”. Leading Russian experts in the fields of biology, ecology, veterinary medicine, and cetacean behavior in captivity were also involved in this team.

On January 18-19, 2019, experts were invited by the Primorsky Coast Guard to inspect the killer whales and belugas, as well as the enclosures in which they are kept. A considerable amount of data was collected, including: skin samples from all 11 killer whales (for genetic research); samples of exhalations and skin smears from damaged areas of the body (to detect any pathogens); water quality samples from the pens; and recordings of vocalizations (or animal speech). In addition a large number of photos and video footage was taken for subsequent thorough analysis.

At the time of the inspection, Srednyaya Bay was not really frozen over. But the entire “adaptation center”, together with the adjacent water area, was completely covered with dense ice measuring several centimeters thick. This is a big problem for all the enclosures (both the open pens, with the belugas, and the closed ones, with killer whales). The “center” staff were seen to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to get rid of the ice. They are forced to use heat guns and compressors, which are used to accelerate water movement and manually remove the ice from the enclosures on a daily basis. The belugas are accustomed to living in icy conditions; but they are absolutely not used to this constant splitting and clearing of ice by people in close proximity. This work is certainly causing anxiety, and is a potential source of severe stress for the animals, as evidenced by their behavior. Thus, during a check in one of the small enclosures with the belugas, it was noted that 12 people simultaneously were chipping ice and throwing pieces over the fence. And in these pens the animals were spending much more time under water during this process, and were moving noticeably less actively, than whales in the neighboring enclosures.

 
In the process of their evolution Beluga whales have adapted to colder climates. They lack dorsal fins (other cetaceans lose heat through this “cooling” fin, mainly because it does not have a fat layer). Orcas on the other hand are not so cold-resistant. Under natural conditions, these killer whales of the northwestern Pacific are not observed around ice. Yet in the open-air cages here in the “adaptation center” they are forced to come into direct contact with ice—a fact which probably has some effect on their health.
Several females (given the names of Zina and Gaika), as well as one male (Tikhon) show noticeable and unusual (for orcas) evidence of mottling and other changes in the skin of the dorsal fin and spinal areas. There were similar anomalies (but often larger and more pronounced—with serious peeling away of the skin) noticed in other orcas – the females named Zoya, and the youngest Alexandra, as well as in the male named Leha. However, one whale named Kirill stands out in this regard – the skin on the fin and upper back area behind his fin is peeling off in large, flapping chunks.

Or course, changes in the surface of the skin may often be associated with molting – a natural change to the outer layers of the skin. Molting of big pieces of skin was observed in bowhead and sperm whales, but it is very rare for killer whales. In this case, the abnormalities of skin may be due to external thermal injuries (from hypothermia and frostbite). In fact, this is quite likely, given that the temperature drops in the tented enclosures every night, with shallow ice and slush accumulates, despite all the efforts of the workers at the center to prevent icing over. It was seen that the killer whales also have rounded skin lesions, which could be due to fungal diseases. Samples taken from animals (skin smears) will soon allow us to more accurately determine the presence of any skin diseases.
There are many cracks and scrapes on the skin of the orca named Leha, injuries that could have been obtained while loading and unloading the animals. These scratches are seen between the pectoral fins, and on other parts of the lower body surface. Other killer whales may also exhibit similar scarring— but it was extremely difficult to inspect the abdominal underbelly of ​​all the whales.

It should be noted that the experts who checked on the “adaptation center” last month had previously noted that the animal skin had almost no noticeable damage. This means that the condition of the skin in at least 6 out of the 11 killer whales has deteriorated.
The general physical condition of the majority of killer whales can be called generally satisfactory. But Kirill’s condition is of great concern. He is completely inactive, looks sick and floating motionless for long periods of time. He often comes into contact with the icy sludge, possibly causing hypothermia with more pronounced damage to the skin that is manifest with Kirill. His breathing is very slow and “gentle”, which can be a sign of pneumonia or other diseases of his internal organs. Next to his dorsal fin, markings on the skin similar to injection punctures may indicate that therapeutic procedures were used on this whale. The state of health of all the animals will be clarified by tests done on the skin samples and exhalations—tests which often take a good deal of time to complete.

The killer whales are divided into three groups of 3, 4 and 4 animals. They do communicate with each other and, possibly, with animals from neighboring enclosures. All the animals are eating food, and are given herring and pink salmon, which is generally acceptable forage in captivity. Nevertheless, this is not normal food for these killer whales, since they are likely to belong to the transient populations of orcas that in natural conditions feed on other marine mammals (such as seals, and sea lions, and even other whales).
Visual inspection of the belugas showed that their number has not changed since the last inspection. There are still 87 individuals. Once again these beluga whales are showing anomalies in their appearance—although not as pronounced as in the killer whales. For many of them, in the area of ​​the back of the head, neck and breathing hole, there appeared a lot of strange dark spots, which is usually not observed in beluga whales that are kept in captivity in aquariums. One beluga whale showed signs of losing weight — a marked reduction in the fat layer appeared around the neck, which is not characteristic of a healthy, normally feeding animal. But in general, according to preliminary visual data, the general condition of the belugas is estimated as more favorable than the killer whales. They all take on food – also herring and pink salmon. It should be noted that, among the belugas, there were younger animals aged up from under a year to 3-4 years of age. The number of individuals born in 2018, the so-called “juveniles” at the time of capture, will be clarified after a thorough analysis of the photos and videos.

One particular threat to the animals’ health was noted by the experts: a complete absence of any sanitation facilities or any measures in this “adaptation center” aimed at preventing pathogenic microorganisms from entering the animal enclosures. There were no disinfecting barriers or any decontaminants or disinfectants applied at any of the entrances to the “center” as a whole, or at any entrances to the individual pens.

Also, there is no separate entrance for each of the pens; the passageway to all the enclosures leads only through the first enclosure with the killer whales, where Kirill, Alexandra and Vitas are kept. Every day a lot of “center” staff pass by, dragging their various equipment, ice-cleaning tools and heavy wheelbarrows with fish, likely causing more anxiety and stress for the killer whales.
Experts will give more detailed and substantiated conclusions later, when they process all the information obtained at the site, and conduct their research on the collected samples.
All photos and videos are the property of the public campaign known as: “Free Russian Whales” and could be shared publicly without written consent.
For more information about the campaign “Free Russian Whales” please see:http://freerussianwhales.org/
————————————————
Press release published by the
Regional public organization “Sakhalin Environment Watch”
Sakhalin Regional Public Organization Club “Boomerang”
Regional Public Organization “Ocean Friends”
Rehabilitation center of marine mammals “Seal”
Scientific and Ecological Center for the Rescue of Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals “Delfa”

Dolphins are eating corroded metal resulting in having their stomachs pumped. Sea Life Park, Hawaii

A leak from a recent private inspection alleges the park covered up imminent building collapses, endangering the public and animals.
Photos and media release by Keiko Conservation:
WAIMANALO, HAWAII, Sept. 24, 2018 – Details of a building inspection at Sea Life Park were recently leaked, sparking serious public safety concerns. As to why the public hasn’t been alerted of this issue, “the engineer’s final report was not released, they were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement… The building is collapsing but the company doesn’t close the building according to the General Manager Valerie King, because it makes too much money.”
One building in desperate need of repair was reported to be the Hawaiian Ocean Theater, where the dolphin shows are held. “The structure is an open beam structure, with 12 glue-lams 40 feet long, weighing 10 tons or more,” the leak stated. Upon inspection, an engineer allegedly claimed “all of the brackets are deteriorated to the point when I touched one of the brackets it fell off in my hand,” and were told, “the dolphin’s stomachs have to be cleared due to them eating chunks of steal [sic] when it falls in the water…
Sea Life Park Falling Apart Dangerous Animal Cruelty
The brackets that tie the cross girders to the glue-lams are completely corroded due to contact to salt air as well, they have been left untreated for many years, and are no longer structurally intact.” The amphitheater surrounding the tank holds up to 700 people.
The engineer allegedly described it as “a disaster waiting to happen,” claiming, “when the wind was blowing, the building was moving, if this building collapses during a show, the dolphins, and possibly hundreds of people will be injured or possibly killed.” It was observed that General Manager, “Valerie King knows this building should be closed down for repairs, but it makes too much money to do that anytime soon, so it will someday be repaired, but it might be too late.”
It also claims Hawaii news agencies were contacted, but, “they know this park is a big attraction, draws a lot of tourism, impacts the local economy, and none of them have printed a word about this.”
This inspection was allegedly done by an engineer who “was hired from Seattle Washington, rather than a local company to keep the information from getting out locally.”
Sea Life Park Falling Apart Dangerous Animal Cruelty DLNR
The second main concern is the main entrance to the park, the shark/reef life tank building. The structure is an an enclosure which “is steel reinforced concrete, the structure is over 50 years old, the steel is completely corroded due to constant contact with salt water… The tank holds 500,000 gallons of water X 8 lbs = 4 million pounds of pressure being exerted to the sides of the building supports.” The alleged inspection also reported the ceiling is coming down in “large chunks… Large pieces of concrete as large as an estimated 1/2 ton or more are falling out of the ceiling. The building shear points are all cracked, and crumbling.”
This poses a serious safety concern to not only visitors, but employees. “There are about 20 places where the ceiling has come down, they have not been repaired yet, so they can still be seen by the public since it is directly above their heads, the building is coming down. The company plans to patch the holes in the ceiling, not tell anyone, but this is a band-aid approach to a mortal wound. This can only end badly, for the animals as well as those trapped when the building does collapse, either partially, or completely.”
Sea Life Park Falling Apart Dangerous Animal Cruelty
The third building of concern is the retail building which was reportedly in use at the time of the inspection despite having been previously condemned. “This building is said to be on the schedule to be replaced in 2 years, but that was said 5 years ago. At this point it is still in use despite the condemnation order.” A recent observation at the park found that the building has since been closed to the public.
Upon receiving this information in July, our partners contacted Hawaii’s Department of Land And Natural Resources Land Division and photographed the park a few days later. The department said they would look into it, but no further response was given, nor apparent action, despite the seriousness of the leak.
Photographs of Sea Life Park confirmed structural damage and the liability exposures. A Animal Plant And Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspection report ([link below]) from 2015 further supported claims, mentioning numerous concerns that matched the leak.
Shortly after inquiries were made, Sea Life Park quickly closed their Gift Shop and Hawaii Ocean Theater. No reported penalties to the park were given. The Shark/Reef Life Tank remains open to the public.

APHIS Inspection Reports 2010-2017

We urge members of the public to contact Barry Cheung of DLNR Land Division and ask for a building inspection to be done:

Office #: 1-808-587-0433
E-mail: Barry.W.Cheung@hawaii.gov

Another Southern Resident killer whale is losing body condition, and researchers are concerned about the pregnant females

K25 has lost body condition

Will we lose Scoter (J25) next? NOAA and partner organizations are watching him carefully as they consider options to increase the volume of Chinook salmon that can be made available to the orcas. Biologists report that it is not unusual for a male to die once their mothers are gone, especially when fish are scarce. Scoter’s mother died in 2017.
Also of concern is the question of how viable the expected calves will be, based on data that show 70% of the Southern Resident orca births have failed to produce healthy calves during recent years. (Read more on the pregnancy failures),
NOAA’s announcement:

Scientists from NOAA’s Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center are currently working in collaboration with SR3: SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer to collect aerial photogrammetry images in an ongoing study to monitor the growth and body condition of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. These data support management actions to ensure an adequate supply of their Chinook salmon prey. In the shorter term, the aerial perspective also offers important insights into the health of individual whales. Earlier this month, this collaborative study provided key information on the condition of an ailing young whale, J50 The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer , and her mother, J16. In recent days, the photogrammetry team have documented another SRKW individual to be in notably poorer body condition compared to recent years.
K25, a 27-year old adult male has been documented in aerial photographs since 2008.
This year, his body profile is thinner than previous years (see images [above]). This change coincides with the loss of his mother, K13 in 2017, and likely reflects the challenges he faces without her help in capturing and sharing prey. Males rely on help from their mothers, and other family members, to meet their increased energy demands, and long term demographic monitoring The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer has shown that adult males have an increased mortality risk following their mother’s death, highlighting K25’s current vulnerability.
Offering a more hopeful outlook for this group, aerial images collected this week have also documented K27, K25’s sister, to be heavily pregnant, along with a number of other females in all three pods (J, K and L) within the population. Whales carry their baby weight below the ribcage, just like humans, enabling later-term pregnancies to be reliably documented from aerial images of body shape (see images [above]).
Unfortunately, there is currently a high rate of reproductive failure The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer in this population, and K27 has been documented to have aborted a fetus The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer in recent years. Follow-up monitoring by our colleagues at the Center for Whale Research The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer will determine the success of these pregnancies

Missing Southern Resident killer whale J50 declared dead – she’s gone, but not forgotten

Another calf J52 (Sonic) lost to hunger in 2017.        Photo by Gary Sutton

With the loss of J50, the total number of Southern Resident killer whales now totals 74 whales.

From the Center for Whale Research on September 13, 2018:
J50 – Missing Southern Resident killer whale is presumed dead
Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family (i.e., J16s) during these outings.
Watching J50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction. Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast. In accordance with an urgent plea by the American Fisheries Society in 2006, natural Chinook salmon runs must be restored throughout their range to avoid their extinction. We have known for twenty years that these fish, in particular, are essential to the SRKW diet. Chief Seattle was right: ‘All things are connected.’ Humans are connected, too.
In the United States, the biggest recovery of natural Chinook salmon is possible with dam-breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) – the Alternative 4 option in the Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of 2002 – the legal instrument for their continued operation after options 1-3 have now failed. The dams lose huge amounts of money for the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) and its rate-payers; they are now obsolete for all of their wished-for purposes; they kill millions of salmon and have driven them to near extinction; and, now we find that they have been largely responsible for the population decline of the Southern Resident killer whales, particularly in the coastal-feeding L pod. In the inland marine waters of Washington State, all of the pods have been negatively impacted by the extinction of once bountiful Chinook salmon runs in the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea.
In Canada, the Fraser River system stocks of natural Chinook salmon have been decimated by overfishing, pollution from mine-tailing dam failures and other mishaps involving toxic chemical spills in the river, and development of industry and agriculture in the Fraser River delta region so important to the life cycle of juvenile salmon. And that is not to mention the policy of allowing fish farms in lieu of responsible management of natural populations of salmon that has been catastrophic to the SRKW food supply in Strait of Georgia region of the Salish Sea.
The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the SRKW are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming, while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems that will ultimately make this once-productive region unlivable for all.

Tahlequah has been carried her dead calf for 17 days. Photo credit The Center for Whale Research

Urgent search for the orca J 50 has begun, now missing for several days (13 Sept 2018)

 

NOAA biologists on a previous encounter with the Southern Resident orcas.

From NOAA:

Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favorable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother.
Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada.
We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations.
Airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are also on the lookout.
We greatly appreciate all the help and concern. The hotline for stranding reports is 1-866-767-6114.
Further updates at bit.ly/NOAAJ50J35.

The Wild Orca seaplane. – Photo: Lee Zerrilla | AirlineReporter