SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: January 28, 2020

SNIP: Another southern resident orca, L41, is feared dead, according to the Center for Whale Research.

The whale, born in 1977, was not seen during an encounter with its family by the center’s researchers on Friday. Because of his age, and the fact that he was thin when he was seen a year ago, “we fear he may be gone and will consider him missing unless he shows up unexpectedly in an upcoming encounter,” the center reported.

If L41 remains missing, that would bring the population of southern resident orcas to only 72, the second-lowest since the center first began its population census 45 years ago. There were 71 southern residents in 1976 at the end of the capture era, when a third of the pods were taken for sale to aquariums around the world.

L41 was an important whale in the southern resident families. He and one other whale, J1, fathered most of the calves born to the pods since 1990.

The orcas are struggling for survival against three main threats: lack of adequate food, particularly chinook salmon; vessel noise and disturbance by boats; and contaminants.

Known as Mega, L41 lived up to his name. He was a classically beautiful orca bull, with a towering dorsal fin, rising straight without a waver from his back. Big and powerful, he was easy to spot and the only adult male left in his immediate family. A nick on the trailing edge of his dorsal made him easily identifiable, along with his massive size, from a long distance.