Late yesterday afternoon, a report came in from Comox, BC about a dead orca found in the Strait of Georgia, with heavy bleeding from the mouth. The orca was brought to shore as everyone held their breath and waited for news, hoping that they were not a Southern Resident – another hit for this critically endangered population. They have already lost two adult members this year, plus the especially tragic loss of the first new calf in two years for the clan.
We waited to hear about this latest death – an ID on the ecotype and if they were a known individual.
And the news was the worst we could imagine. The orca was confirmed as Rhapsody (J32), an 18 year-old female member of the Southern Residents. Not only is the individual loss a hard blow, but losing a young female means we also lose the babies that she could have had – offspring that could have helped this struggling population recover.
When Resident orcas die, it usually takes some time before we realize they are gone, when they fail to reappear with their families in their regular summer feeding grounds. A body washing up is rare, and there is much we can learn from Rhapsody in her death. A necropsy will be performed and can tell us about her final days – what she was eating, how many toxins were in her body, if she was pregnant, and maybe even why she died. Though we are extremely saddened by the loss of Rhapsody, we can learn from her death and take steps to help the remaining Southern Residents, now numbering only 77 individuals.
Help us save this critically endangered population – please sign our letter of support for removing four dams on the Klamath River. Prey depletion is a major threat to this population and can intensify the effects of other threats, like biocontamination. Free-flowing rivers help the salmon populations that these orcas rely on as their primary food source. Now more than ever, we need to step up our efforts to save the Southern Residents, before it’s too late.