Featured Image Credit: Orca Spirit Adventures
The travel patterns of three Southern Resident killer whale pods have been changing, and not in a good way. These large pods have been known to mingle in the San Juan Islands for the summer. Typically, they would spend their days feeding on the scattered schools of salmon around Puget Sound.
But over the past several years, the travel patterns and even the social structure of these endangered Southern Resident killer whales have been disrupted, and this is the worst year ever. While the whales usually show up in Puget Sound in early June, this year it was observed that the Southern Residents were nowhere to be found. It seems they avoided the area they always came to altogether this year.
In recent years, the larger orca pods have broken up into smaller groups of whales that come and go. The latest official count is 77 orcas among three pods: J pod, K pod and L pod. That number reflects the death of K-13, a 45-year-old female named Skagit.
This could very well be the reason these whales aren’t flocking to Puget Sound like they usually do. Skagit was a mother of 4 offspring and a grandmother of 2. There is concern of how the rest of the family will act to the loss of the dominant family figure. Matriarchal groups are led by the elder females.
Just recently, SeaWorld lost the matriarch of their San Diego pod, Kasatka. She died at 41 years of age from a bacterial infection. It looks like no matter where an orca lives, in the wild or in the care of humans, death can occur at any age, despite being known for having a long life span.
Without Skagit’s leadership, the remaining orcas have been seen wandering around in search of food. Unfortunately, there is a high possibility that we are likely to see fewer births and more deaths of orcas in the wild.
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