Southern resident killer whales last seen in poor health now missing
Researchers recently saw J pods and K pods in Haro Strait, but J17 and K25 weren't there
Two southern resident killer whales last seen in deteriorating health are now missing from their family groups.
Researchers with the Centre for Whale Research spotted J pod and K pod in Haro Strait over the weekend, but two orcas, J17 and K25, weren't with their families.
The centre hasn't declared the whales dead, but biologist Michael Weiss said "it's not looking good."
"These were two whales we were already really worried about. They were looking pretty emaciated, so to have them be the two that we can't seem to find in these groups is pretty alarming," Weiss said Tuesday.
The biologist said J17 hasn't been seen in weeks. The last photos of her show the 42-year-old female with peanut head — a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation.
K25 was emaciated when last seen in January. It's believed the 28-year-old male had been struggling to forage on its own after losing its mother, K13, in 2017.
Weiss said it's common for male killer whales, which are extremely dependent on their mothers for food, to have trouble feeding in the first two to three years after the mother dies.
"There's a danger period," Weiss said.
Weiss said the pods have left the mainland area, but researchers will continue to look for the missing whales when the groups return.
A week before researchers realized two adult whales are missing, they celebrated spotting all three pods that make up the endangered southern resident killer whale population.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a tweet on Friday that they were happy to report researchers had encountered members of J, K and L pods off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
It said experts also saw a new calf swimming with its mother, J31.
The endangered whales had disappeared for much of June from their usual summer location off the southern end of Vancouver Island and around the U.S. San Juan Islands.
The residents are listed as a species at risk in Canada with just 75 left.
For more on the future of the southern resident killer whales ...
Listen to a new CBC British Columbia podcast. Killers: J pod on the Brink is hosted by Gloria Macarenko, and the first episode comes your way July 18.
You can subscribe now, wherever you get your podcasts.
With files from the Canadian Press