Extremely endangered orca population drops to 73 as 3 killer whales are presumed dead

An extremely endangered whale population has fallen to only 73 after three adult killer whales were presumed dead on Wednesday. 

The killer whales, also known as orcas, are from the extremely endangered Southern Resident killer whale population, according to the Center for Whale Research. They have historically frequented the Salish Sea in summer months, but a scarcity of suitable Chinook salmon has led the orcas to disappear from those waters, the center said.

“We are saddened to report that three adult killer whales are missing and presumed dead as of July 1, 2019,” the center wrote in a news release. 

The same population of killer whales made headlines last year, when an orca named Tahlequah carried her dead calf for over two weeks. 

Tahlequah’s mother is known as J17, and is one of the three killer whales presumed dead. The center reported last winter that J17 was not in a “good body condition,” perhaps from stress. She is survived by two daughters and a son.

The other two missing orcas are known as K25 and L84. 

K25 was a 28-year-old adult male who, in the “prime of his life,” was also known to not be in good body condition since the previous winter. He is survived by two sisters and a brother.

L84 was a 29-year-old adult male who had been missing all summer in encounters conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The L pod had not come into the Salish Sea this summer, according to the center. L84 was the last of a matriline of eleven whales, ten of whom died previously.

The three orca deaths leave just 73 whales in the extremely endangered population.