Two more West Coast ears are in difficulty and probably will be dead by the summer, according to an expert from the southern Crimean population living in the Northwest Pacific waters.
Photographs from last September showed that the people in difficulty, known as southern inhabitants, entered the winter thinner than they were when the whales arrived last summer in the San Juan islands.
They are also thinner than the northern resident population of killer whales, which have steadily grown in the population over the last 40 years in their waters of origin, mainly in northern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska, where they have access to more fish and cleaner and quieter water.
The inhabitants of the north gave birth to 10 new calves last year.
Seattle Times Reporting Whale Research Center Ken Balcomb said that photographs taken by a resident of the southern orc known as J17 on New Year's Eve showed that the 42-year-old woman has the so-called peanut head – a head and neck deformed caused by hunger.
In addition, a 27-year-old man, known as K25, also fails because of the lack of enough food. He lost his mother, K13, in 2017, and did not manage to feed himself.
Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of the marine mammal research program at the Vancouver Aquarium, said there was little hope for whale survival.
"I think these two whales are in such a bad state that they are unlikely to do it in the winter and, unfortunately, if they do it in the winter, I think the prospects are weak for them to make through the spring and summer" , he told CBC.
They did not have successful tasks in 3 years
Several whales in the southern region were documented as pregnant in September, but so far there has been no sign of babies. The southern inhabitants did not have a successful task in three years.
The population living in the south is at a low of 35 years after three deaths in 2018. Only 74 people remain.
The loss of J17 would be a blow for the southern inhabitants because it is a still reproductive woman, said Deborah Giles, a scientific researcher at the University of Washington, Center for the Conservation of Biology.
Giles said he was not surprised to hear about K25. The social dynamics of the southern inhabitants, where older females help their bridge, and especially their sons by dividing food, are both a blessing and a curse if the woman dies, Giles said.
"These large, adult, hungry men benefit from the females in their family," Giles said. "There is probably a family marriage, but not when his mother was alive."
The next year does not make it easier for southern inhabitants to feed themselves. Whales consume mostly chinook salmon.
The oceanic conditions and the poor migration of rivers, with hot water and low flows, have hurt chinook salmon back in recent years.
"The biggest challenge these animals face is simply getting enough food," said Barrett-Lennard.
"The long-term challenge, of course, is to rebuild chinook salmon populations and, unfortunately, this is only a very long and slow process."
The new critical habitat in B.C.
Last month, two new areas on Vancouver Island were designated by the Canadian government as a protected critical habitat for killer whales.
Fisheries and Ocean Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said when the decision is the main feeding locations for endangered whales. The government increases the protected habitat quantity from about 6,400 square kilometers to about 10,700 square kilometers.
The new protected area has the role of contributing to the recovery efforts of resident whales in the north and south of the country and covers an area off the southwestern island of Vancouver.
Washington also recently announced that they have spent $ 1.1 billion in the US and a partial whaling ban in an attempt to help recover the population. Money would be aimed at protecting and restoring the salmon habitat, increasing salmon incubator production, storm water cleaning, and seizing ship traffic.
Despite all signs of population decline, Barrett-Lennard still has hope for endangered whales.
"I do not think they're still doomed," he said. "I think if we can only stabilize the population, it has enough chances to recover. We have to go on with this, and I think the next few years will be very critical."