Southern Resident orca population drops with 3 deaths, 2 births

South-based orca populations grew in the 1970s and 1990s, peaking at 98 animals, officials said, but the population began declining thereafter.

SEATTLE — The population of endangered orcas residing in the South has declined from 74 to 73 at the last census, according to the Center for Whale Research (CWR).

The center announced this week that it has completed its annual census estimate of the South-based orca population for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

On July 1st the population was 73 whales.

As of July 1, 2021, three orcas have died while two more were born, officials said. Their number has hovered around 73 in recent years.

J Pod

J Pod had one of the two births reported by the center. J37 had her second offspring, J59, in February. The center said J59 is female and appears healthy on recent observations.

J Pod is the pod most likely to surface around the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound year-round, according to CWR.

With no deaths and a single birth, J Pod now ranks 25.

K Pod

CWR marked two deaths and one birth in K Pod for the 2022 census.

K21 was reportedly last seen “severely emaciated” in late July 2021, the CWR said. K21 was declared deceased shortly after he was not seen in subsequent encounters with his social group.

K44 was last seen alive in late April 2022, however he has not been sighted in recent encounters with his family. CWR said the body of a juvenile male orca, the size of K44 and with markings matching those of a southern resident, was found entangled off the Oregon coast in late June. The lack of photos and biological samples has prevented a definitive identification, according to the CWR.

K20 had her second offspring, K45, sometime in April 2022. CWR said the sex of K45 has not yet been identified, but appears healthy in recent observations.

K Pod has the fewest members of the southern resident orcas. At 16, K Pod is at its lowest in two decades.

L Pod

L89 is one of the three deceased reported by CWR. L89 was reportedly last seen in late 2021, despite repeated encounters with his mother and social group throughout 2022.

L Pod is by far the largest of the Southern resident pods, but the 2022 census marks the pod’s lowest numbers since the study began in 1976, at 32, according to the center.

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Orcas living in the south increased in numbers in the late 1970s, 1980s and mid-1990s, peaking at 98 whales, officials said. After that, the population began to decline, going from 98 to 78 whales by 2001.

Southerners face multiple threats to their survival, including underwater noise, pollutants, and lack of adequate Chinook salmon, their primary food source.

A study this year by the University of British Columbia showed that killer whales have not been getting enough food for several years.

The National Marine Fisheries Service last year finalized rules to expand the endangered orca’s critical habitat from the Canadian border to Point Sur, California, adding 15,910 square miles of feeding areas, estuaries and migratory trails. Southern Resident orca population drops with 3 deaths, 2 births

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