Group J is probably the best known among the resident population of southern killer whales. After the death of two members of the group last summer, researchers now fear that the death of a 42-year-old female, J17, will have serious consequences for the entire North-East Pacific family.
The Washington State Whale Research Center predicts that at least two southern resident killer whales will die by the end of summer 2019. J17 is one of them.
“J17 is a grandmother and grandmothers are as important to whales as they are to humans,” says Lance Barrett-Lenard, director of the marine mammal research program at the Vancouver Aquarium. . “They are what keeps the lineage together. ”
According to Lance Barrett-Lenard, the death of an elder can have a ripple effect. “After the matriarch’s departure, we often find that the mortality increases among the other members of the group, especially their adult sons,” he says.
More and more attention for killer whales
Group J attracted attention last year, when a mother transported her child’s body for several days, a way to express her grief, experts say.
A few weeks later, a young killer whale died, despite the unprecedented efforts of Canadian and American scientists to save him.
“It’s encouraging to see that the public is getting all this attention, but I wish it were a few years ago, when the whales were in better shape,” says Lance Barrett-Lenard.
Three southern resident killer whales lost their lives in 2018. There are only 74 remaining in this population, 22 of which are in the J group.