Transient orca has died, but his death offers a rare chance for study

T-44, a 25-foot transient killer whale, was found dead Monday, floating off the north end of Vancouver Island near Port Hardy.

T-44 has died. Photo by Rachael Griffin
T-44 has died. // Photo by Rachael Griffin

While many whale observers mourn the loss of the 33-year-old male, experts say they need to take advantage of the rare opportunity of finding a transient killer whale before its tissues have decomposed. (Transients are groups of orcas that eat marine mammals.)

John Ford of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans said, for the first time in decades, researchers will be able study the biological and physical makeup of a transient orca. See report by The Canadian Press.

Orca Network reports that T-44 has been observed in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and around Vancouver Island for years. With a nick in his dorsal fin, the animal was easy to spot, officials said.

The Whale Museum
in Friday Harbor offers this observation: “Hopefully the samples taken will identify the cause of T-44’s death, but a wealth of other knowledge can also be gained from recovering and necropsying a fresh killer whale carcass. For instance, the contaminant levels contained in the blubber and other tissues can be measured. Killer whales tend to carry high levels of POPs (persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and PBDEs) as they feed so high up the food chain and these contaminants can cause problems with their immune and reproductive systems.

Rachael M. Griffin of Aquagreen Marine Research in Victoria put together a beautiful slide show in memory of T-44.

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