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Killer whale orca J34 likely died because of blunt trauma, initial necropsy results reveal

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Initial necropsy results of the 22-foot long killer whale named J34 that died on December 20th, 2016, are out and according to experts, blunt trauma likely caused the orca’s death.

J34 was a Southern Resident killer whale, a population listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada. The whale was found floating earlier last week near the shore of Sechelt, northwest of Vancouver. J34 was part of the endangered southern resident killer whale population, which live in the waters off southern B.C. and Washington state. The group’s population is now 79.

A necropsy was performed to determine the cause of the animal’s death by experts at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Initial examination indicates that the 18-year-old male orca appears to have blunt trauma to the dorsal side, and a hematoma indicating that J34 was alive at the time of injury. A CAT scan will be conducted on the skull to determine if there are any fractures. Additional information from tissue and blood analysis can take 2-8 weeks.

The killer whale was alive at the time when he was hit and it died of blunt trauma to its head and dorsal side. According to Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the agency, the whale was likely struck by something. Officials with the federal Fisheries Department have been careful not to speculate about what caused the animal’s injuries – specifically if it was caused by a vessel.

Fate of killer whales

Orcas are a bunch of endangered species and their fate in the Pacific Northwest region of B.C. and Washington State has become a central issue in the debate about the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion from Alberta to B.C. The government has already approved the project in November, but there has been intense opposition from environmentalists and others with claims that the increased tanker traffic associated with the pipeline would put whales in serious danger.

Ships may strike the whales and could either severely injure them or cause their deaths or the noise of the ships could disrupt the whales’ ability to track prey and communicate. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging the federal approval of the pipeline because, they argue, the government did not adequately consider the impact on the whales.