‘She left a great legacy’: Researchers suspect freed killer whale T046 has died in Salish Sea

'She left a great legacy': Researchers suspect freed killer whale T046 has died in Salish Sea

The awe of watching transient orcas in the Salish Sea never fades for researchers like Alert Bay’s Jared Towers.

The killer whale researcher with Fisheries & Oceans Canada and Bay Cetology said it actually grows when you come to know each whale’s story – and they don’t get much more impressive than the grand matriarch, T046.

“She left a great legacy behind,” Towers told CHEK News from Alert Bay on Thursday.

Her two distinct notches in her dorsal fin, and the constant companionship of her three sons and daughter made her standout.

“Even from a distance you could tell it was her,” said Towers.

Yet, the wild queen of the coast, nicknamed “Wake,” is now feared dead after a year without sightings.

“These whales are so cohesive with their family members that you can accurately designate death after several occasions without [sighting] them,” said Towers.

It’s an ending to this whale’s incredible journey. T046 is believed to have been born in 1966. In 1976, she made history, becoming part of the last live capture of orcas in the Pacific Northwest.

“At that time she was captured with five other whales in Puget Sound and she spent several weeks inside a net pen. There was a lot of media attention on that and a lot of public outcry and that resulted in all those whales being set free, and legislation passed of no more live captures of killer whales would occur in Washington State,” siad Towers.

He says the female went on to live a prolific life in the wild.

“Since then, T046 has gone on to have at least eight offspring, at least 15 grandchildren and at least five great-grandchildren as well,” said the researcher.

“And imagine if she had been kept in captivity, this population would not be nearly as well off as it is now,” he said.

Since only five per cent of orcas who die are ever found, Towers expects T046’s remains will likely never surface, nor will her cause of death, which could range from naturally occurring to a vessel strike.

But what is certain is this Biggs Killer Whale’s impact was huge and continues, long after she’s gone.

SEE ALSO: New transient orca calf spotted off Vancouver Island

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