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Researchers pursue report of orca calf carcass

On Aug. 30, a private boater broadcast a report over marine radio Channel 16 that they had discovered what appeared to be a killer whale calf floating off of Lawrence Point near Orcas Island.

The observer stated that the placenta was still attached to the carcass.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Department heard the broadcast and passed the information on to the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. A fishing tender also picked up the information and notified the network’s coordinator, Amy Traxler.

“The captain of the vessel called me at home on Sunday morning, saying they had received the coordinates of the (supposed) carcass and were almost at that location,” Traxler said. “He offered to look for the carcass and proceeded to do so for over an hour in pea-soup fog with no luck.” Traxler also searched the area for several hours Sunday afternoon but found nothing.

Even though the network does receive periodic calls of dead whales, they usually turn out to be porpoise. Last year, however, a killer whale calf did wash up in Open Bay on Henry Island. Unfortunately, it wasn’t reported until several days later and the carcass was too decomposed to get much information out of it. DNA tests did determine that it was an aborted fetus from a member of the Southern Resident Community.

“Retrieving carcasses of killer whales is rare and invaluable,” said Joe Gaydos, chief scientist at the SeaDoc Society and the network’s veterinarian. “Only approximately 10 percent of the carcasses from Southern Resident killer whales are ever found, which makes it difficult for us to determine the role that disease could be playing in slowing the recovery of this population.”

If anyone finds the carcass, they are advised to call the Stranding Network immediately at (800) 562-8832 and leave a message. Traxler also recommends that if the carcass is found floating, to tie a fender or some object to the carcass to make it easier to find.

The San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network is run by the Whale Museum (www.whalemuseum.org).

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