WATCH: The last confirmed sighting of the ailing killer whale J50 occurred one week ago today. On Thursday, a leading orca researcher declared her presumed dead. As Mary Griffin reports, with 74 remaining southern resident whales, hope is also fading for their future.
Members of the southern resident J and L Pods swimming in Active Pass this morning. CHEK News viewer Rachelle Hayden filmed the whales from Mary Anne Point on Galiano Island as the whales swam by. But still no sign of J50.
On Thursday, 58 members of the J, K and L Pods met up near Race Rocks. Skipper Mark Williams with Springtide Whale Watching and Ecotours caught the whales on video.
“It was a pretty cool moment when the two families were actually meeting. You could almost see the excitement, a few breaches. They start to speed up as they meet. So, yeah, it was special to see that,” Williams said.
The last confirmed sighting of the young orca is Sept 7. But there are many eyes on the water, including float plane airlines, watching out for J50. Harbour Air President Randy Wright said everyone is still looking for the young whale, including what some thought was a sighting Thursday.
“Some passengers thought they saw a small whale, spoke to the pilot, then the pilot relayed to our dispatch,” Wright said.
Despite the continuing efforts, Ken Balcomb, the founder of the Center for Whale Research, and the keeper of data on the southern resident population, declared Thursday that J50 is presumed dead.
“Out there, that’s Belview Point, and Mykilm Point is just south of that. J,K and L pods are out there. And J50 is not with them. How’s that? She’s dead,” Balcomb said via Skype from Friday Harbour.
Other researchers agree, including Josh McInnes, a biologist at the University of Victoria.
“The future at this point is not looking good. I think a lot of people agree that the southern residents are declining quite a bit,” McInnes said.
Despite gatherings like this, McInnes says the whales never recovered from the 1950’s to 70’s when aquariums targeted the young marine mammals.
“That actually decreased the opportunity for the population to do well. It’s actually harmed the whales, probably up until now. It’s something that’s been devastating to the population.”
And those who spend time on the water watching the whales agree, including Springtide Whale Watching and Ecotours owner, Dan Kukat.
“We used to have superpods, not infrequently throughout August and September. It was a big family get together, and often couples would go off and do some mating. and we’re just not seeing that,” Kukat said.