No clue to what killed baby orca found in Dungeness

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

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SEQUIM — Results of tests conducted Tuesday in Seattle to determine why a newborn orca washed up dead on Dungeness Spit on Monday are expected in two to three weeks, said wildlife biologists.

The killer whale underwent a necropsy and DNA testing at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Western Regional Center in Seattle's Sand Point to find out why it died and if it was born alive, said Sue Thomas, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, and Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist for NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Center.

Hanson recovered the 7-foot-long male calf after it was reported washed ashore by keepers at the New Dungeness Lighthouse and took it to Seattle on Monday night.

Hanson said the baby orca likely had been dead for a day or two.

Lighthouse keeper Arthur Moore said he spotted the orca on a crest on the Spit about a quarter-mile from the lighthouse while scanning for hikers on the Spit with his binoculars Monday morning.

“I saw something washed up down there. At the time, I thought it was probably a seal,” Moore said.

Fellow keeper Marty Lamarr walked down the Spit to investigate. They then called Fish and Wildlife agents from the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex at Sequim.

“We figured it was a killer whale once we got down there,” Moore said.

The keepers couldn't find any evidence of trauma that may have killed the orca.

“There weren't any propeller marks or anything,” Moore said.

Thomas said a crew of four wildlife agents went out to retrieve the orca at about 2 p.m.

They lifted the body of the 300-pound orca into the trailer of an ATV and drove it off the Spit before putting it in the back of Hanson's pickup truck.

“The good news is, it was very fresh, so they could get a lot of information about it,” Thomas said.

In addition to the cause of death, the NOAA tests are intended to show whether the killer whale was a passing transient orca or a member of the Puget Sound-native southern-resident community, which was listed as an endangered species in 2005.

If the orca was a resident, said Howard Garrett, director of the nonprofit Orca Network, it could produce valuable information about the viability of the resident pods.

“As far as the health of the population, we very much want all the information we can get about their reproductive success,” Garrett said.

The Orca Network, said Garrett, received reports of a pod of resident killer whales off San Juan Island over the weekend.

A group of transients also was reported off the coast of Victoria over the same time frame.

Reporter Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5056.

Last modified: January 08. 2013 9:51PM
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