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.