As 2014 came to a close and the new year began, one of Washington’s beloved (and endangered) Southern Resident Killer Whales witnessed a shift in their small and close knit communities. A member of J-Pod (one of the three communities of Orcas who live in the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands nearly year round) lost a pregnant female Orca named Rhapsody, or J-32. This death served as a huge disadvantage to the extremely low population, as there are only a handful of young, breeding females remaining.
According to the Center for Whale research, the total population of orcas in the Puget Sound has reached 80 whales, which is nothing when compared to the pre-capture population in 1965. A total of 13 whales were killed during the capture, and 45 were taken to marine parks across the world. The decade of captures, combined with swiftly falling Chinook Salmon population and a rapid increase in the water’s pollution, created a need for the Southern Resident Killer Whales to be placed on the U.S. government’s endangered species list.
Fisherman, conservationists, biologists and tourists in the community alike depend on the Southern Resident Killer Whales in order to keep the Salish Sea’s ecosystem in place, as they are a keystone species. This means that if the orca population continues to deplete, we will see negative consequences from fishing to research.
According to the Seattle Pi, a new orca calf was born just as 2015 rolled in. While pictures and stories of this new addition flooded the internet, the celebration of a new birth is, as always, a tentative one. According to the whale museum, the community waits a year before naming new Southern Residents, as they have a mortality rate of approximately 50 percent during that time.
By Claire J.