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Southern resident killer whale population falls to 73

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The Center for Whale Research's (CWR) annual census of the southern resident killer whale (SRKW) population shows a decrease in the number of the endangered orcas that seasonally live in B.C. waters.

According to the Washington state-based whale research agency, as of July 1 the SRKW population consisted of 73 individuals, which is a decrease of one from the July 1, 2021 census, when the orca population was 74.

This year's report was released in September and was completed for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Bellingham, Wash.

The CWR reports that the SRKW population is a large extended family or clan that make up J, K and L pods. Members of J pod are the clan most likely to be seen year-round in the waters of the Salish Sea.

The pod used to frequent the inland waters from Washington state’s lower Puget Sound to the Georgia Strait from late spring to early fall.

In recent years the timeframe for J pod's "visits" have shortened to late summer through to early fall.

DEATHS THIS YEAR

The most recent census data shows the SRKW population had three deaths – K21 "Cappuccino," L89 "Solstice" and K44 "Ripple" – from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022.

"From community observations, we know that K44 was alive in late April 2022, however he was not seen in subsequent encounters with his family," reads this year's CWR census report.

The agency states that the body of a juvenile male killer whale, matching K44’s size and markings, was found entangled off the Oregon coast in late June. It says that due to a lack of photographs or biological samples, a definitive identification of the deceased orca could not be made.

"If there is even a chance that we are losing members of this endangered population – possibly otherwise completely healthy and productive members – to entanglement, this is an issue that needs immediate attention, discussion, and action," the report adds.

The agency’s researchers note that L89 "Solstice" was seen in late 2021, but despite repeated encounters with his mother and social group, the orca has not been seen in 2022.

LOWEST COUNT FOR L POD

This year's SRKW census marks the lowest number of orcas in L pod, at 32, since the study began in 1976.

Meanwhile, K pod has the lowest number of orcas in its family in the past two decades, with just 16 individuals.

The census report indicates that J pod, with no deaths and one birth, now totals 25 orcas.

The whale research organization reports that during the SRKW census period this year, there were two births among the endangered orca population.

In February, J37 gave birth to her second calf, J59, which the CWR determined to be a female.

Then sometime in April, K20 also had her second offspring, K45, but despite multiple encounters by the CWR with the calf, its sex is currently unknown.

Recent observations of the two orca calves show that they appear to be healthy.

This year's full SRKW census report can be found on the Center for Whale Research website.

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