The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation held a ceremony Thursday after a young killer whale was found dead at a Nootka Island beach the day before.
Chief Jerry Jack with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation in Gold River said the orca was found by a hiker near Beano Creek on the island. Jack said the hiker contacted Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Yuquot resident Ray Williams.
DFO then contacted the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation to see if they wanted to be involved in the retrieval of the animal.
A helicopter was brought in Thursday morning to lift the dead orca off the beach onto a Zodiac boat. It was brought to Gold River for the ceremony. The elders agreedceremony cremony in an emergency meeting.
During the ceremony, the orca was cleansed of evil spirits with cedar boughs and elders spoke about the “wolf of the sea” or kakaw’in in the Nuu-chah-nulth language.
On Friday, DFO confirmed they worked with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation to transport the orca to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford. A necropsy will be done at the centre to determine the cause of death.
Around 60 Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation members performed the ceremony.
Jack said it was important for the community to have a ceremony because the orca is sacred in their culture.
“We send them off in a good way,” Jack said.
“It is sad but we are appreciative in a different way that we were allowed to partake in something like this.”
According to Jack, this is the first orca that has been found dead in the area this year. He estimates the orca weighed 500 pounds (227 kilograms). The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation have asked DFO for the report into why the killer whale died.
“This is very concerning to our people. We ask DFO to report back to us as to the cause of death of this young whale so that we can understand what is happening in our waters,” Chief Maquinna said in a statement.
DFO has collected a DNA sample for analysis, which may help identify the population or ecotype of the animal.
“There are four different ecotypes of killer whales that frequent the coast of BC: offshores [shark eaters], transients [mammal eaters], northern residents [salmon eaters], and southern residents [also salmon eaters],” DFO said in a statement.
As of September, there were no newborn southern resident killer whales in the population. However, several are pregnant. The population, which is now at 74, has not had a successful birth in three years.
J50, the emaciated three-year-old southern resident killer whale that was given antibiotics while her health continued to fail, was declared dead in September. Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research said at the time that her remains would have sunk because she had no significant blubber layer.
And in August, southern resident J35 dropped her dead calf, which she had been pushing with her head for 17 days. The calf was born on July 24 and died the same day.