J50 and family (J16s), September 3, 2018 (photograph by Dave Ellifrit)
With the loss of J50, the total number of Southern Resident killer whales now totals 74 whales.
Press Release – September 13, 2018
J50 - Missing Southern Resident killer whale is presumed dead
J50 is missing and now presumed dead.
Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7 by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family (i.e., J16s) during these outings.
Watching J50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction. Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast. In accordance with an urgent plea by the American Fisheries Society in 2006, natural Chinook salmon runs must be restored throughout their range to avoid their extinction. We have known for twenty years that these fish, in particular, are essential to the SRKW diet. Chief Seattle was right: 'All things are connected.' Humans are connected, too.
In the United States, the biggest recovery of natural Chinook salmon is possible with dam-breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) – the Alternative 4 option in the Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of 2002 – the legal instrument for their continued operation after options 1-3 have now failed. The dams lose huge amounts of money for the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) and its rate-payers; they are now obsolete for all of their wished-for purposes; they kill millions of salmon and have driven them to near extinction; and, now we find that they have been largely responsible for the population decline of the Southern Resident killer whales, particularly in the coastal-feeding L pod. In the inland marine waters of Washington State, all of the pods have been negatively impacted by the extinction of once bountiful Chinook salmon runs in the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea.
In Canada, the Fraser River system stocks of natural Chinook salmon have been decimated by overfishing, pollution from mine-tailing dam failures and other mishaps involving toxic chemical spills in the river, and development of industry and agriculture in the Fraser River delta region so important to the life cycle of juvenile salmon. And that is not to mention the policy of allowing fish farms in lieu of responsible management of natural populations of salmon that has been catastrophic to the SRKW food supply in Strait of Georgia region of the Salish Sea.
The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the SRKW are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming, while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems that will ultimately make this once-productive region unlivable for all.
Current Southern Resident population census:
J pod: All of the J pod whales and L87 were confirmed to be present by CWR staff members. At this time, there are 22 whales in J pod.
K pod: All of K pod was seen by CWR staff in March of 2018. K pod currently has 18 members.
L pod: currently has 34 members, down from nearly 60 members in the early 1990’s.
With the loss of J50, the total number of Southern Resident killer whales is now 74 whales.
Red = female / Blue = male
Photo by J. Cogan - Center for Whale Research
A look back to our announcement on January 7, 2015
Good News! It is a Girl!
The new baby killer whale in J pod, called J50 by researchers that designate these whales alpha-numerically, is alive and well, and with its matrilineal family today in northern Georgia Strait British Columbia. The new baby was first seen in the San Juan/Gulf Island archipelago on the 30th of December when it was estimated to be 4-10 days old, and it quickly became the subject of mystery because it was swimming alongside a female whale that is estimated to be 43 years old – beyond the age calculated for reproductive senescence in these whales. The 43 year old female, J16, has had five known prior babies, three of which have survived and still swim by her side. Her sixteen year old daughter, J36, was not seen nearby on 30 December, and we have for several years hoped that she would calve soon.
We still do not know which whale, J16 or J36, is the mother of little J50, but we will analyze photographs and behaviors noted today and in the future to determine the exact status in addition to the now confirmed female sex of the new baby. Sometimes it takes a few encounters and some time to sort these things out because these whales are very caring for one another, and baby-sitting is not unusual, especially with grandmothers. The presumed maternities in our catalogue now spanning forty years of precise photo-identification have all been verified by genetic studies, so we have to be careful and not leap to conclusions about exact relationships from only two sightings of this baby. We are working in coordination with researchers from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to obtain facts and photographs that will help solve the matrilineal situation, but the sex of J50 is now confirmed to be female.