Loss of Crewser drops endangered orca count to 75

FRIDAY HARBOR, Washington — Researchers say they believe another endangered orca has died off B.C.’s coast.

The Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor, Washington, says a southern resident killer whale known as L92 is presumed dead.

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The loss of L92 brings the total number of southern resident killer whales down to 75, which is the lowest count since the early 1980s. The population has dropped by eight members since 2016, despite a baby boom at that time that gave some researchers optimism about their recovery.

L92, also known as Crewser and estimated to be 23 years old, has not been seen with his pod for two months.

The animal was a member of the L pod — the largest of three groups, along with the J and K pods, that make up the southern resident group of killer whales, which typically travel between the inland waters of southwestern British Columbia and Washington state for most of the year.

It was the second-to-last member of the L26 matriline — the only surviving whale is now its aunt, known as L90.

The research centre says the whales have been spending fewer days in inland waters in recent years. The orcas have died from various causes, including malnourishment, infections and being struck by boats. Researchers say the decline of chinook salmon — the whales’ main prey — has contributed to the deaths, as have vessel traffic and noise.

The southern resident whales are listed as endangered species in Canada and the United States.

— With a file from the Seattle Times

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