An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

Human interactions are the leading cause of untimely death among B.C.’s killer whales, a new study suggests.

A team of marine mammal and orca specialists analyzed pathology reports of 52 killer whales stranded in Hawaii and the northeast Pacific, including the southern resident killer whales regularly spotted off the B.C. coast, finding the animals face a variety of threats, but the reemerging theme was human-caused in every age class.

“In British Columbia, we lost nine southern resident killer whales — two adults, two subadults and one calf died from trauma. One was a confirmed propeller strike, with one adult and two subadults from suspected ship strikes,” said lead author Stephen Raverty, a veterinarian pathologist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia stated in a press release. “One of these iconic species passed away from an infection secondary to satellite tagging. Another death was due to natural causes and the other two undetermined. Half of the southern killer whale deaths identified in this study were caused by human interactions.”

READ MORE: What’s going on with marine mammals in Vancouver waterways?

The study was based on orca deaths between 2004 and 2013, led by the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, and coordinated through the SeaDoc Society, a Washington-based program of the University of California. Raverty and coauthor Dr John Ford are adjunct professions at UBC’s Institute of Oceans and Fisheries and Department of Zoology, respectively.

The report may offer one of the most comprehensive looks yet at the multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales, and help inform strategies to better protect them. While human interactions play a key role, the researchers cautioned the findings indicate an understanding of each threat is critical for conserving orca populations.

“The results from systematic necropsies of dead killer whales in this review is unique and will establish critical baseline information to assess future mitigation efforts,” Raverty said. “This work contributes to a better understanding of the impacts that ongoing human activities and environmental events have on killer whales.”

Overall, of the 52 whales studied, the cause of death was determined for 42 per cent. Other causes include sepsis following a halibut hook injury, starvation from a congenital facial deformity, infectious disease and nutritional deficiencies.

“Nobody likes to think we’re directly harming animals,” said co-author and SeaDoc Society Director Joe Gaydos. “But it’s important to realize that we’re not just indirectly hurting them from things like lack of salmon, vessel disturbance or legacy toxins. It’s also vessel strikes and fish hooks. That humans are directly killing killer whales across all age classes is significant; it says we can do a better job.”

READ MORE: Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

READ MORE: Newborn southern resident killer whale spotted in B.C. waters



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

ConservationKiller WhalesScience

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Westbound Highway 1 traffic near Herrling Island is backed up a long way following a vehicle incident. (Photo/Trish Dunbar)
Pedestrian killed in crash near Agassiz

Woman in her 50s struck by moving van

A nurse holds vials of AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 during a vaccination campaign at WiZink indoor arena in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Manu Fernandez
Hope residents 40 and older can now get vaccinated at participating pharmacies

Remedy’s RX pharmacist said the response from the public was immediate following announcement

Future Finlandia Lion Ian Heagy with his biggest fan, mom Jen Heagy. (submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey player Ian Heagy defies the odds to land at Finlandia

Having never played a minute of rep, Heagy is making the jump from house to NCAA Div 2 hockey

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

A man has died after being shot at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park the evening of Monday, April 19. (Twitter/IHIT)
1 man dead after shooting at Coquitlam park: IHIT

The gunman is still at large, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amounts from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Most Read