UPDATE: Another Southern Resident Killer Whale death – orca J34

(Added: J34, photographed by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)

9:22 AM: Heartbreaking news overnight for those who cherish our area’s endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales: Another one is gone. An orca found dead in Sechelt, B.C. [map] has been identified as J34, an 18-year-old male. CBC News and CTV News reports say the orca was spotted floating on Tuesday and brought to shore yesterday so a necropsy could be done.

No word yet on what has been found. Meanwhile, this tribute by the Orca Network puts the loss in context. An excerpt:

How to express this loss of beautiful young J34 Doublestuf? Of course we can only imagine how his mom J22 Oreo must feel from so much tragedy in her small matriline. In the mid 1990s the J10s were a bonded family with mom J10 Tahoma and big brother J18 Everett and sisters J20 Ewok and J22, always close. Then it started, with J20 dying in 1998, leaving her 2-year old J32 Rhapsody to be raised by younger sister J22, followed soon after by losing mom J10 in 1999, and a few months later big brother J18 washed up near Vancouver at 22 years old. J22 became mom and matriarch at that point. Just 2 years ago J32 and her unborn baby were found dead near Comox in Georgia Strait. And now, with J34 gone, only 31-year old J22 and her 13-year old son J38 Cookie remain. They need our help now more than ever.

Since the death of J1 Ruffles in 2010, J34 was often the most recognizable member of J pod, with his tall, slender, still gently curved dorsal fin with the telltale scallop midway in the trailing edge. …

The Center for Whale Research says J34 was seen alive in the San Juans just two weeks ago (a photo of him is in the slideshow on this page).

The last J Pod deaths were announced by whale advocates two months ago, when they summoned reporters to the downtown waterfront (WSB coverage here) to call for pressure on the federal government to breach Snake River dams that are contributing to a shortage of salmon, which is what the resident orcas eat. Even before J34’s death was announced, the Orca Network was planning a candlelight vigil for the SRKWs for December 27th at the Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island (where ON is based).

11:47 AM: The Center for Whale Research has just sent its news release about J34’s death:

We regret having to make a distressing announcement during this holiday season, but we confirm from news photographs and eyepatch photos sent to the Center for Whale Research that the killer whale carcass that was towed to a beach near Sechelt on the BC Sunshine coast is indeed that of J34, an eighteen-year-old male in the iconic J pod of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The carcass was observed floating near shore on Tuesday, December 20th 2016 and was recovered by coast guard personnel and Sechelt First Nation members.

We are awaiting the results of a necropsy conducted late Wednesday by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for an official report of J34’s body condition and cause of death. We reported that J34 was looking skinny this past summer.

At least four other J pod members have died so far in 2016: J55 in January, J14 in July, and a mother and calf J28 and J54 in October.

J34’s eighteen-year-old cousin, J32, died from birthing complications and emaciation in December 2014 and her necropsy report was released to the public in April 2016.

For over a decade, we have been voicing concern that these whales are not getting sufficient salmon for their survival and that all fisheries management options should be considered including catch limits and strategic dam removal to recover endangered wild salmon populations. However, a blue-ribbon panel of experts assembled by DFO and NOAA Fisheries concluded in 2012 that they were: “skeptical that reduced Chinook salmon harvesting would have a large impact on the abundance of Chinook salmon available to SRKW.”

However, in May 2016 Federal District Court Judge Michael D. Simon rejected the status quo on dam operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and called for an extensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to determine dam related impacts to federally endangered salmon in the Columbia basin – salmon that are vital to the Southern Resident killer whales in coastal waters during the winter months and when they do not find sufficient food in the Salish Sea during the rest of the year.

Assuming no other whales are missing, J pod now has 25 members, K pod 19 members, and L pod 35 members.

Total SRKW population 79, but this number is obviously subject to change with births and deaths at any time.

CWR also released photos of J34, and we have added one atop this story.

ADDED MONDAY NIGHT: Early necropsy results show J34 died of “blunt force trauma,” possibly the result of a ship strike.

16 Replies to "UPDATE: Another Southern Resident Killer Whale death - orca J34"

  • Donna December 22, 2016 (10:43 am)

    This loss is heartbreaking indeed. These whales are disappearing before our eyes. Let the untimely death of this young whale be an inspiration to address *all* the issues that are impacting these whales: lack of salmon, toxin accumulations and noise and stress from boats. It is not one of these things, but all.

    The Whale Trail was founded in 2008 right here in West Seattle to build awareness about the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and promote shore-based whale-watching throughout their range.  Bringing down dams is a complex challenge that will take decades to accomplish. There are plenty of things each and all of us can do *right now* to help these orcas.

    Noise and stress from boats makes it harder for hungry whales to catch the fewer salmon that *are* there.  That includes whale-watching boats and recreational boaters. The next time there are whales near West Seattle – don’t go out in a kayak or a paddle board or a whale watching boat to get closer to them. Join us on shore, and know that you are giving them a better chance to make it.

    Reduce Toxins. Living on the edge of the Sound, the choices we make in our daily lives have an impact on whether these whales will survive. Orcas are at the top of the food chain. Toxins like PCBs, PBDEs and DDT bioaccumulate in orcas, and are stored in lipid cells like blubber and mother’s milk. When the orcas are stressed, the toxins may be released into their bloodstream, and make them more susceptible to diseases. 

    So: if you want to help the orcas – stop using pesticides. Walk or take the bus instead of driving once a week, and reduce the oil that is running off pavement and into the Sound.  Support Orca Relief’s petition to turn the west side of San Juan Island into a no-go zone for boats. (These are a few suggestions – we have plenty more, and welcome yours!)

    Next year we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Springer the orphaned orca going home. She was reunited with her pod on the north end of Vancouver Island. Three years ago, she had her first calf.

    It’s the only successful orca reunion in history. To get the whale home, we had to learn how to work together, as individuals and across organizations, agencies and nations. Above all, we put the whales’ best interest first. 

    The Whale Trail was founded in 2008 in the same spirit, and with many of the same team members. Our goal now is to recover the southern resident orcas (J, K and L pods). Their fate is in our hands. 

    • captainDave December 22, 2016 (12:55 pm)

      I agree that there are many things we can do now to help.  I have been studying the pollution problem on Puget Sound and have been in touch with several state agencies and beach clean up organizations about putting a program to target high accumulation areas for plastics and toxic wood removal.  We are hoping to secure private corporate funding for regular expeditions to an area I call the “Great Puget Sound Garbage Patch” that washes up on the south shores of Whidbey Island due to prevailing winds and currents.  

      It is vitally important that we urgently remove toxic garbage from the beaches before it gets broken up in the waves.  I was just down at Lincoln Park a couple days ago photographing shoreline debris–There was a lot of small “micro plastics” scattered among the rocks.  If everyone who went down to the beach took a small bag and spent some time picking up the small pieces of plastic along the shore, it would be beneficial to the wales and other sea life.  

      Also, I visited the Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island last week end.  I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn more about local whales.

    • Marc Pesse December 29, 2016 (11:52 am)

      Donna, I could not agree with your information that dam bypass will take decades. Please correct this misinformation, the process for dam bypass would be done by the Army Corps of Engineers very quickly and cost effectively and the process is set out in the EIS on this direction. If you’d like I can send you the EIS so that you do not continue to publish incorrect information. Thanks. 

  • Alki Resident December 22, 2016 (12:32 pm)

    Oh no. Just heartbreaking.

  • anonyme December 22, 2016 (1:39 pm)

    Heartbreaking as it is, I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in hell that the environmental threats faced by these magnificent, intelligent animals will (or can be) addressed in time to save them.   For most people to voluntarily drive less, fish less,  and give up pesticide use without mandatory restrictions is against human nature.  Human behavior has ensured not only the demise of orca, but of our own species.

  • CEA December 22, 2016 (3:30 pm)

    Anonyme, perhaps you’re right, and this is undoubtedly a very complex issue. But I’m not willing to give up. Let it begin with me. 

  • seaopgal December 22, 2016 (4:48 pm)

    There will be a Candlelight Vigil for the Southern Residents next Tuesday, December 27, beginning at 4:45 p.m. at the Statue of Liberty Plaza. Flowers and candles will be provided; optional social gathering after. This event is sponsored by local residents, and is open to all. More info on Facebook (should be visible to you even if you aren’t on FB): https://www.facebook.com/events/675787395932583/

  • herongrrrl December 22, 2016 (5:00 pm)

    Bless you, CEA. Even if it is too late for the SRKW (and count me among those working fervently to be sure it isn’t), giving up excuses you from doing anything to help.  I have been watching these whales since I was a small child, and as I’m creeping on toward 50 I want to do everything I can to make sure my kids and grandkids can continue to enjoy these whales being here.

    One of the biggest sources of pollution in Puget Sound is untreated stormwater–the water that runs directly into our rivers and streams, and the sound, without any treatment to remove pollutants.  That water carries lawn chemicals, animals waste, and all manner of terrible stuff from streets.  Some areas do treat theirs, but they are few and far between here, and we need to support the infrastructure modifications to allow it all to be treated.  Also, if you see someone dumping something into a stormdrain, report it to the city!  I’ve caught a commercial painting company and a rug steam cleaning company using stormdrains to dump wastewater her in WS,  just a few yards from Puget Sound!  In each case I took pictures and reported to the city and they were very responsive.

    It is sounding now like some kind of blunt force trauma was involved in Doublestuf’s death (very preliminary, the necropsy was just done today), but there’s no question that salmon are a huge issue for these whales.  Avoid eating farmed salmon and get involved in salmon habitat restoration–Duwamish Alive happens twice a year and is nice and close!  WS is also home to the current Executive Director of Long Live the Kings, a salmon restoration organization you may want to support.  And should you be fortunate enough to be a shoreline property owner, you might consider removing or modifying your bulkhead to make it more habitat friendly for salmon smolt and the small fish adult salmon rely upon to survive.  It should go without saying that maintaining your car and avoiding pesticides in your garden help keep stormwater clean.  And when one considers all the different resources necessary to move things around, and the impacts on the environment of moving things using vehicles powered by fossil fuels, all those other “good” environmental things like recycling, composting, consuming locally produced food and other goods, etc. all help the salmon too.  It’s all connected!

  • WestCake December 22, 2016 (10:54 pm)

    It lived a great life bringing joy and happiness to all who witnessed it!

  • Tim R. December 23, 2016 (6:22 am)

    Doublestuf was my daughter’s “adopted” whale through The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.  She’ll be crushed.  Tragic of course too for the whale family and for all of us……

    Be careful while among them!

  • anonyme December 23, 2016 (8:38 am)

    Who said anything about giving up?  I’ll fight until I die, so spare me the uninformed judgment about “excuses”.  I have never owned a car, don’t use pesticides, don’t eat salmon, and make a living as an organic gardener.  I’ve far exceeded the ‘suggestions’ listed above for many decades.  I’m what some would consider a rabid environmentalist, and was once a full-on PETA activist.  I actually view orca as a superior species to our own.  

    I’m also a pragmatist.  Fighting against impossible odds does not mean I will not continue to live in what I believe to be an ethical manner, no matter how difficult.

    The port expansion should be added to the ‘stop’ list for the impact that super ships and increased marine traffic will have on orca populations, and others.  Talk about noise, and a literal collision course toward disaster…

  • unknown December 23, 2016 (12:23 pm)

    And now we find out it was blunt force trauma that killed Double Stuf… it just makes me so sad for an incredible creature to die so soon.

    They say maybe a ship hit him but I watched a PBS program a few weeks ago and it had a segment on our resident whales and they say that out of town whales have been known to  beat up on the resident whales for food… I’m wondering if there are some out of towner’s near and it could had been them and not a ship?

  • Jennifer Steel December 23, 2016 (12:44 pm)

    Gorgeous photo of J34 Double Stuf. Stunning mountains in the background. May your memory be cherished, dear Orca J34. 

  • G Man December 23, 2016 (10:56 pm)

    R.I.P. Doublestuf, you will missed

  • Donna December 24, 2016 (1:22 pm)

    Unknown – in reply to your question – there is no evidence that orcas attack each other.  Perhaps by specializing in different prey (marine mammals,  fish) they have found a way to co-exist in the same ecosystems. We’ll wait to see what DFO’s investigation reveals, but it would be unlikely and unprecedented for this to have been due to an attack by another whale, or any natural cause. More likely is that was caused by a ship strike. Will this be the tipping point to get everyone who cares about the orcas to focus on  vessel traffic in their environment? I hope so. 

  • unknown December 27, 2016 (11:20 am)

    @Donna…it was just a question/wondering after watching that program on PBS to which I assume their programs are true and not just fables. But I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what the outcome is…which either way is tragic and sad.

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