If One Orca Whale Was Blown Out of the Water, How Many More Died?

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Note – the official cause of death has not been reported, the scientists have to be thorough and meticulous in their work, but it should be available soon. In the meantime, it would be wise for any work with underwater explosives or loud sonar to be suspended while this is sorted out, and the point of this article is to encourage people to contact authorities and ask them to intercede.
I wonder now, as I stare at this photo, if the young whale L -112 was alone when the blast that took her life ripped through the chill Pacific waters, or was she in the company of her extended family.  It is not often that young Southern Resident orcas find themselves separated and lost from their families, but it does happen – and when it does, the chances are fairly high that it is because noise from ships or sonar make it difficult for the whales to communicate and find each other.

These orcas often travel in large groups. (L pod in California, photo by Nancy Black)

These whales are familiar to those who live in the Pacific Northwest – the orcas spend much of the summer in the inland waters of the southern Salish Sea, and cruise down to the Seattle area in the fall.  They swim close to shore and up to our boats, and we know them all by name or number. They have received endangered status and as such are highly protected as well as highly cherished, but their population hovers below 90 total, stubbornly refusing to grow. Some years they are thin and suffer from a shortage of salmon, but this year have appeared to be robust, signalling that they are finding fish (these whales never eat marine mammals).
Their Canadian cousins, the Northern Resident orcas – who also eat fish, who also suffered the travails of being shot, netted, or captured for entertainment – have recovered significantly in numbers. But not the Southern Resident orcas.
The Southern Resident orcas are barely holding steady while the Canadian orca population grows

L pod makes up almost half of the remaining 86 Southern Resident orcas, of which 10 are  in L-112’s family group.  In the winter they range out into the ocean and as far south as central California…and that takes them over huge expanses where arsenal is a danger.  Where they can be exposed to deafening sonar and practice explosives. Where old unexploded bombs litter the ocean floor.
Notice the faint print in this map of tagged J -27, also a Southern Resident orca - it says "Dumping Ground Explosives Military"

I wonder, now, as I look at the graph and the map – are we struggling to save them with one hand, and destroying them with the other? Could it be that with all the sophisticated sonar systems the Navy uses for security that they can’t locate a pod of whales?  Or perhaps a curious young whale explored the wrong thing…
A lawsuit has been filed to protect the marine life along the western U.S., but in the meantime please contact members of congress and ask them to put a halt to this situation:

Jan 20 2012:  A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.  (San Juan Journal)

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