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Dead Orca Was Pregnant, May Have Had Birth Complications: Necropsy

Image: Dead Orca Was Pregnant, May Have Had Birth Complications: Necropsy
In this April 19, 2011 file photo, Female orca Wikie swims with her calf born by artificial insemination at Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes. (Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 08 Dec 2014 06:55 PM

A dead orca was pregnant with a full-term fetus before its body was found off Vancouver Island, a necropsy found. Also, someone removed the teeth from the orca before it was examined.

Experts had speculated the death of the endangered killer whale may have arisen from birth complications. Biologists have yet to determine the cause of death, The Associated Press said.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans also said someone removed several teeth.

"It looks like they broke off a couple, and there were a number that were sawed off, and those were cut off right to the gum," said Paul Cottrell, the agency's Pacific marine mammals coordinator.

It's illegal to possess part of an endangered animal.

"It's just a senseless, illegal act," Cottrell said. "We take this kind of thing seriously. We don't want endangered species parts being traded or sold."

The orca known as J-32 was found floating in the water Thursday near Courtenay. It was moved to a boat launch Friday for the necropsy, which took place Saturday.

The death leaves 77 animals in the Puget Sound orca population, which was listed as endangered in 2005.

"The fetus was decomposing," said Ken Balcomb, a scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, assisted in the necropsy. "The tests will be able to tell whether the fetus was already dead before the mother died, and therefore may have been the cause of her death."

Tissue samples from the orca and the fetus will be examined at a number of labs across North America, Cottrell said. Results are expected in four to six weeks.

"Hopefully there will be enough evidence in tissue and fetus to understand what's going wrong," Balcomb said.

He said he does not think it's a natural birthing issue because "we know that the levels of toxins that are in these whales are harmful to reproductive status."

There hasn't been a successful birth in the population for 2 1/2 years, Balcomb said.

The orca looked healthy but its blubber level was thinner than usual, indicating that it had poor nutrition for some time, Balcomb said.

"What we do know is that if we could provide a food supply that's abundant and healthy, they wouldn't have to rely on their blubber storage for energy," he said.

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A dead orca was pregnant with a full-term fetus before its body was found off Vancouver Island, a necropsy found. Also, someone removed the teeth from the orca before it was examined.
dead, orca, was, pregnant
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2014-55-08
Monday, 08 Dec 2014 06:55 PM
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