Monday, March 14, 2011

'Iconic killer whale' believed dead off B.C. coast

Edmonton Journal (Canada): 'Iconic killer whale' believed dead off B.C. coast

The oldest male killer whale in the three southern resident pods is believed to have died.

J1, also known as Ruffles, a member of J-Pod, has not been seen since Nov. 21, when he was photographed by Mark Malleson, Prince of Whales skipper, who carries out research for the Center for Whale Research.

Ruffles, who got his name because of his large dorsal fin with waves resembling ruffles, was believed to be about 60 years old.

The average lifespan for a male killer whale is 29, while females live about 55 years.

"He's the iconic killer whale of the southern resident killer whale community. He's been around since way before the whale-watchers," Malleson said.

Confirmation that J1 is not with the pod came last weekend when Malleson saw J-Pod in resting formation, allowing him to do a roll call.

Malleson said he suspected last year that the end was near for Ruffles as he started to smell.

"Of course it's a loss, but it was inevitable. He was living on borrowed time," he said.

Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor, Washington, said J1 was the first of the endangered southern residents to be designated in the photo-identification study, led by Michael Bigg, that started in the id-1970s.

"He was very, very special, but you can't live forever," he said.

Ruffles has left a legacy in the form of at least seven offspring, who are spread around all three pods, Balcomb said.

The oldest remaining male is believed to be L41, who is 34.

There are now 85 members of the three pods, but it is not yet known whether there have been any recent births, Balcomb said.

Although J-Pod tends to stay around the Salish Sea year-round, L and K Pods are wanderers who swim in and out of the area, but return for several months in the summer and fall, meaning the calf count usually takes place in June and July.

Members of L-Pod are currently swimming around Monterey Bay and have been seen beside the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Balcomb said.

"They are there for the fish. They went down to snack," he said

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