Pregnant orca whale was starving, could not expel dead fetus

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The preliminary results of a necropsy performed by the Centre for Whale Research has found that a pregnant orca whale discovered dead in the water near Courtenay on Vancouver Island earlier this month was starving.

The necropsy revealed the layer of blubber on 19-year-old J-32, also known as Rhapsody, was “relatively thin and dry of oil” and that there was very little fecal matter in the intestines – all signs of an inadequate diet over an extended period.

However, the report notes that the disintegrating fetus was likely the main cause for the mother’s death due to difficulties with expelling it. It adds that the fetus may have been dead for a significant period of time before J-32’s death.

It is well known that southern resident killer whales have stored extremely high levels of pollutants such as PCB’s in their blubber and fats. These pollutants can cause immune-supression, reproducitve impairment and defects, brain defects and behaviour disorders.

“These pollutants are released to circulate in the bloodstream when the whales’ blubber fats are metabolized for energy when fresh food is scarce,” reads the report. “It is like having a freezer full of tainted and freezer-burned food that you never have to eat unless there is nothing in the grocery store. When nothing else is available the bad stuff is taken out of storage and circulated for body needs.”

Rhapsody was among the 17 reproductive females in the group of 78 southern resident orca whales. The death is considered a significant blow to the local orca whale population.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigation continues to find those who were responsible for removing the teeth from the dead whale after the body was moved to a boat launch. Some of the teeth were apparently cut right off to the gum.

 

Feature Image: Centre for Whale Research

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