Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Orca Calf Found Dead On Henry Island

Sadly enough the news that was posted August 4th was not what many want to hear- the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network has recovered a body of a dead orca calf on the beaches of Henry Island.  While it was originally sighted on July 26th, the fetus was not reported to the Network until August 1.   In the meantime, the body was scavenged and was in an advanced state of decomposition when researchers arrived on scene

According to Amy Traxler, who runs the Network, “A newborn killer whale calf is usually 7 to 8 feet long and 300-400 pounds,” while this carcass was approximately 5 feet long with an estimated weight of 70-80 pounds, so it’s likely this calf was aborted.”  The placenta was lying next to the calf when originally discovered, she said, and it is believed the calf was born prematurely. Cause of death, as well as whether it was a member of a resident or transient pod, is expected to be determined in a necropsy being conducted by Dr. Joe Gaydos, the Stranding Network’s veterinarian and regional director of the SeaDoc Society , a research institution affiliated with the University of California-Davis.

A recent paper Gaydos presented to the International Whaling Commission suggests that an average of seven killer-whale carcasses are found around the world annually, making every killer whale stranding a rare opportunity to learn more about the biology and diseases of this species. Researchers will now try to conduct a necropsy to try and determine the cause of death as well as attempt to determine if this calf is, indeed, an offspring of the endangered southern resident community of orca whales.  At issue will be the amount of decomposition and whether or not there are any viable tissue samples to be found.  I actually assist in necropsies with Joe and Amy- and see firsthand what a loss a decomposing body can be to scientific efforts.

To respond to marine mammal strandings in San Juan County, alive or dead, please call 1-800-562-8832 and leave a message with your name, phone number, location, and other pertinent details of the stranding. You will be helping to better understand and protect the region’s marine mammals.
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