Female killer whale found dead off B.C. coast was likely giving birth
Published Friday, December 5, 2014 8:50AM PST
Last Updated Friday, December 5, 2014 7:30PM PST
The young female orca found dead off the coast of Vancouver Island was pregnant, and may have been giving birth at the time of her death.
The killer whale was discovered floating in the water off a Comox Valley fishing resort by whale watchers near Courtenay, B.C., Thursday morning.
A former employee of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans towed the massive whale to shore for further examination.
“It was about 400 yards off shore and slowly drifting north and out. So we grabbed it and pulled it in,” said George Bates of the Bates Beach Resort.
“We’ve seen lots of dead seals and sea lions but never a killer whale.”
Biologists have identified the orca as "Rhapsody," a southern resident killer whale, a rare sight off B.C.’s coast.
The J-pod is one of just three families of a unique whale that spends time in the inland waters of British Columbia and Washington State.
She was about 18-years-old, prime birthing age.
Scientists at the Center for Whale Research say it appears the whale was in the middle of delivering her baby when she passed away. The tip of her calf’s nose was sticking out from her body.
Ken Balcomb told The Associated Press the death is a severe blow to the pod population, which was placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2005. There are now 77 left, he said.
Female killer whales live to an average age of 50 years old, while males live about 30 years, according to the Vancouver Aquarium.
Field studies in B.C. have found that some females can reach up to 80 years old, and some males will live to 55.
Members of the resident pod are commonly spotted off the B.C. coast between April to November, but usually go into mainland inlets or offshore during the colder winter months.
With files from AP