(Seattle) — Efforts to find a sick young orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest came up empty Thursday, and a scientist who tracks the animals declared her dead — though federal authorities said they’d keep looking.
The grim news means scientists believe just 74 whales remain in a group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a dearth of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.
“We’re watching a population marching toward extinction,” said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. “Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we’re just not going to have these whales in the future.”