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Center for Whale Research June 16, 2001


Astrid van Ginneken, Co-Principal Investigator, Center for Whale Research 360-378-5835

Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, media liaison e-mail: 360-378-3557

The Center for Whale Research reports seven killer whales missing from Southern Community Orca population as whales return to the San Juan Islands for the summer.

After several weeks of careful observation of the southern resident killer whale pods in and around the San Juan Islands, the Center for Whale Research has confirmed seven whales are missing from the population.

For the twenty-sixth year, the Center for Whale Research is documenting the pods of killer whales that frequent the inland waters of Washington State and southern British Columbia. Maintaining both a photographic catalog of every individual as well as social structure of the entire population, staff at the Center noticed the missing animals as the pods returned to the San Juan Islands last month.

L-pod, the largest of the three resident pods, first arrived in the San Juan Islands May 20 whereupon staff members with the Center began a detailed inventory of the returning animals. Upon closer inspection, several individuals were notably absent, and after several encounters in the following weeks six whales have now been regarded as missing. K-pod also returned to the region May 20th, and while one new calf (K-33) has been observed, a calf born in November did not survive the winter, bringing the total number of animals missing to seven.

The missing animals include:

L-1 (adult male / born ~1959 / one surviving sister L-54

L-11 (adult female / born 1957 / mother of five offspring - 3 surviving

L-39 (adult male / born 1975 / mother L-2 and 3 younger siblings survive)

L-62 (adult male / born 1980 / mother L-27 survives, 3 younger siblings deceased)

L-98* (calf born 1999 / mother L-67 survives)

L-99* (calf born 2000 / mother L-47 and 2 older siblings survive)

K-32 (calf born 2000 / mother K-16 survives

*(At present, with the loss of L-98 and L-99, no calves in L-pod born since L-95, in 1996, have survived)

New calves born this year include:

J-37 (calf born to J-14, her third); K-33 (calf born to K-22, her first).

With the absence of seven individuals and the addition of two calves, the total population numbers for the southern community is 78, with L-pod now at 41, K-pod at 17, and J-pod at 20. When research began on these pods in 1976, there were 71 whales total; the population peaked at 99 whales in 1995 while there has been a precipitous decline since that time.

The numbers for all years of the study are as follows:

1976 71 whales; 1977 79 whales;
1978 79 whales; 1979 81 whales;
1980 83 whales; 1981 81 whales;
1982 78 whales; 1983 76 whales;
1984 74 whales; 1985 77 whales;
1986 81 whales; 1987 84 whales;
1988 85 whales; 1989 85 whales;
1990 89 whales; 1991 92 whales;
1993 97 whales; 1994 96 whales;
1995 99 whales; 1996 97 whales;
1997 92 whales; 1998 89 whales;
1999 85 whales; 2000 82 whales;
Presently in 2001 - 78 whales.

Factors that may play a role in the population decline include:

The southern community killer whale pods were captured on 13 separate occasions in the Puget Sound area between 1965 and 1976 with 36 reported whales taken for aquariums throughout the world.

In recent years many salmon stocks have been dramatically reduced to dangerously low levels, with several species recently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

High levels of Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBTs) including Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in samples taken from recovered bodies of several members of the J and L-pods.

In the past ten years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of whale watching vessels following the whales, which may add stress on already weakened individuals in times of duress.

The data collected by the Center for Whale Research is to be cited specifically to the Center and no other organization, and any/all uses should clearly state the information came from the Center for Whale Research.

Susan Berta Orca Conservancy 2403 S. North Bluff Rd Greenbank,WA 98253 (360) 678-3451