Featured Image: Seattle Orca Whale Watching
New drone photos show J17, one of the 75 endangered killer whales who frequently visits Puget Sound in Washington, experiencing a worrying amount of weight loss. The photos also show she’s experiencing “peanut head” – a serious condition that makes her head appear indented from above due to a low amount of facial fat deposits.
Just last year, J50, a young orca, also exhibited peanut head before passing. It’s a tell-tale sign of long-term starvation and Dr. Deborah Giles of Wild Orca said “In the past, once the peanut head gets to a particularly bad state, it seems to be inevitable that we’re going to lose that individual.”
There have been several whale strandings in the area recently and scientists are finding them emaciated. The recent occurance has sparked a scientific investigation and prompted scientists to delcare an Unusual Mortality Event.
However, not all scientists are ready to give up on J17 just yet and think recovery is possible.
Michael Mistien of NOAA says, “I don’t think we are willing to give up on J17 that fast. The point of photogrammetry is to understand whether the whales are prey-limited and how that affects them. Of course, losing weight like this is never a good sign but we want to learn as much as possible about what the contributing factors are and how to unravel and address them. Not all of the animals that have died were emaciated, so there must be other factors at play.”
Scientists are hopeful that they will be able to discover what is going on with J17 so that they can help save her.
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