An orca calf found dead on a beach near Tofino is a Biggs killer whale from the Gulf of Alaska transient population, not B.C.’s endangered Southern Resident population.
That’s according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which has received results of a Vancouver Aquarium DNA test from a necropsy conducted on Christmas Day.
DFO Marine mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell says it was tricky to identify the Orca at first, but that they were fairly certain it wasn’t one of the eight local calves born in this year’s “baby boom.”
“Initial looking at the eye patch of this animal and comparing it with the photographs and the Centre for Whale Research, looking at the pictures we have of the eight new calves, there was no match at this time.”
SEE: Orca Calf found near Tofino (warning, some readers may find these images graphic)
It’s still unclear what killed the animal, though Cottrell says it doesn’t look to be human caused. He says there was no obvious cause of death, but there are clues.
“There was an infection identified, so that could have contributed.”
Full results of the necropsy may take several months.
In addition to B.C.’s Southern Residents, our waters are home to three other populations, all listed as threatened under the species at risk act: northern resident orcas, offshore orcas, and transient killer whales.
Alaskan Biggs’ are separate from B.C.’s transient population, and much less is known about them. They are considered threatened.
The calf was found by a surfer at Mussel Beach near Tofino on Dec. 23. Cottrell says there were transients in the area at the time..
It has been a banner year for B.C. orcas, with more calves born in any year since the 1970s.
The news had whale watchers and conservationists ecstatic, as the southern resident population of orcas is listed as endangered with a population of just 84. The eight births represented a jump of more than 10%.
The breeding frenzy has been attributed to a healthy run of Chinook salmon, though observers warned the chances of survival were small.
Only about half of orcas born in the world are expected to survive their first year.
Earlier this year, Michael Harris with the Pacific Whale Watch Association warned that this year’s class of young cetaceans could face major challenges, with a possible looming shortage in their food supply.