Baby orca found on Nootka Island lived just a few days, says DFO

Eric Plummer, November 28, 2018

Recent results from a necropsy performed on a killer whale found on Nootka Island Nov. 14 indicate that she lived just three to five days. (Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation photo)

Abbotsford, BC — 

A baby killer whale that was found deceased on the southern shore of Nootka Island earlier this month lived for just a few days, according to necropsy results released today from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The orca was found Nov. 14 west of Yuquot on Nootka Island, first sighted by a hiker on a beach near Beano Creek. On the following day the female killer whale was airlifted by helicopter onto a DFO vessel for transport to the Gold River boat ramp, where members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation performed a ceremony to mark the kakaw`in’s passing. Kakaw`in is killer whale in Nuu-chah-nulth, and the beings are highly respected by those from these First Nation communities.

The orca was taken to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford for a necropsy on Nov. 16, and a DNA sample was also removed for analysis. This sample links the baby calf to the transient population, a non-migratory Pacific species that are genetically distinct ecotypes from the northern residents, southern residents and offshore species.

“Necropsy results confirm that the transient killer whale calf (also known as Biggs) had been born alive, breathed and likely died three to five days postpartum,” stated the DFO in a release on Nov. 28.

The necropsy results narrow the cause of death down to either a separation from the mother, the mother’s death, neglect or undernourishment.

“Further analysis is required to determine cause of death,” noted the DFO release. “Blood and tissue samples will be further analyzed, and will likely require two to three weeks for results.”

Unlike the West Coast’s northern and southern residents that feed primarily on salmon, the transient – or Biggs - population mainly eats seals, sea lions and porpoises. Transients are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, and between 1990 and 2011 Fisheries and Oceans Canada identified 521 off British Columbia’s coast.

“Because they rely on stealth and passive listening to detect prey, Bigg's killer whales are at risk of habitat degradation through acoustic disturbance from underwater noise,” reads the Government of Canada’s description of the species.

The necropsy in Abbotsford on Nov. 16 also involved a humpback whale that was found near the Tsawassen ferry terminal in Delta earlier that day.

“Necropsy results from the female humpback whale are consistent with catastrophic ship strike with propeller injuries,” stated the DFO, which continues to investigate the incident. “The results of these necropsies will feed into a growing body of knowledge to assist in assessing the threats to whales from a population health perspective. This data allows us to look at trends, pathogens or other indicators that may affect their life cycles.”     

The Fisheries and Oceans Canada release also acknowledged the Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tsawassen First Nations for their ceremonial offerings to the respective whales before the necropsies were performed.