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Scientists find no sign that killer whale was hit by boat

Biologists suspect L-90, an 18-year-old female killer whale, may either be ill or pregnant. They found no marks indicating it was struck by a boat off west side of San Juan Island on Friday, as some witnesses had first feared.  - Center for Whale Research
Biologists suspect L-90, an 18-year-old female killer whale, may either be ill or pregnant. They found no marks indicating it was struck by a boat off west side of San Juan Island on Friday, as some witnesses had first feared.
— image credit: Center for Whale Research

Something appears to be not quite right with L-90.

But biologists at the Center for Whale Research are confident that the 18-year-old killer whale was not struck by a private boater off the west side of San Juan Island shortly before noon on Friday.

The Center sent a team in search of an injured orca after receiving numerous reports of a boat speeding through a group of killer whales just south of Lime Kiln State Park and colliding with one of federally protected marine mammals at about 11:30 a.m.

State and federal authorities arrived in the area a short time later.

Because of its listless and lethargic behavior, L-90 proved proved easy to find and observe, the Center's Erin Heydenrich said.

"We were able to observer her for a couple of hours and didn't see any marks," Heydenrich said. "We didn't see anything that would indicate she was hit."

Heydenrich said the killer whale was breathing heavily, moving slowly and mostly "logging" on the surface, a term used when an orca simply floats along or appears to be at rest. She said witnesses reported seeing the orca behaving similarly after it was supposedly struck by the boat.

Heydenrich noted that L-90 had been observed two days before behaving in a similar manner. Its health, she added, has been of particular concern over the years because it has a somewhat abnormal physique.

She said the killer whale could be ill or that, based on her age, she could be pregnant and suffering pains or from complications associated with carrying a calf. L-90 would be a first-time mother if she were to give birth.

Heydenrich said the driver of the boat that supposedly struck the orca was questioned by officers with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and denied hitting a whale.

The Southern resident killer whales, which consists of three separate and closely related pods, J, K and L, are listed as endangered under federal law and new rules took effect earlier this year that prohibit boaters and kayakers from coming within 200 yards of a killer whale.

— Scott Rasmussen

 

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