The preliminary conclusion reached by scientists investigating the death of L112, the juvenile killer whale found dead on Long Beach February 11, 2012 is:
The grossly noted hemorrhage around the head and neck is consistent with physical trauma, which would have been sufficiently severe to account for the loss of this animal. The cause of this injury remains undetermined and investigations are ongoing.
The orcas likely died "near the Columbia River or to the south and drifted before being cast ashore on Long Beach."
According to the report:
NOAA Fisheries has contacted a variety of government agencies and other sources in an attempt to identify whether human activities may have contributed to the injuries that were observed.
The United States Navy responded to our request for information, and has no records indicating that Navy units used sonar or explosives between Feb. 1 and Feb. 11 within the Northwest Training Range Complex, which includes the coastal area between Newport, Ore., and Cape Flattery, Wash.
The Royal Canadian Navy confirmed the use of sonar and two small under water charges by HMCS Ottawa on Feb. 6, 2012, as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise near Constance Bank and in the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
HMCS Ottawa activities included following a Marine Mammal Mitigation Policy prior to and during the period when they were using ships’ sonar and prior to deploying the charges. Whales were not observed during that time.
The Department of the Army confirmed with all military organizations resident on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) that no military training involving JBLM units took place during the timeframe of the stranding.
The Fishing Vessel Owners' Association responded that vessels are not typically on the water and fishing in February, and reported no interactions between whales and fishing vessels.
Responses are pending from the United States Coast Guard and the United States Army Corp of Engineers.
The investigation, which is conducted by the Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is administered by NOAA Fisheries, Protected Resources Division in Seattle, will continue.
A few days ago SeaDoc and collaborators from the Whale Museum and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used CT results as a guide to dissect the cranium of Southern Resident Killer Whale L-112, known as Sooke. Sooke was a 3-year-old female who was found dead on the shore at Long Beach, WA on February 11, 2012.
The dissection was streamed live on the Internet, and at times there were more than 100 people watching. Signs of trauma that were seen on the gross necropsy of the body were also seen during the dissection of the head, which was conducted at a later time to allow for the CT scan of the head.
The samples collected during both parts of the gross necropsy are awaiting further testing, which will hopefully permit us to determine what caused the trauma. Stay tuned.
Although L-112’s death was tragic, scientists are using it to learn all they can about the stressors affecting the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Wildlife health and human health are very connected. Both humans and wildlife are often exposed to the same contaminants, diseases can be shared between us, and health problems in wild animals can serve as sentinels for similar issues in people.
The necropsy can be viewed here. Keep in mind it is a dissection of a whale and is may be too gross for some to view.
On Feb. 11, 2012, a stranded killer whale washed up just north of Long Beach, Wash. Photographs of the dorsal fin and saddle patch were matched to catalogs of known killer whales by biologists from NOAA Fisheries and the Center for Whale Research. The whale has been identified as a member of the Southern Resident L Pod known as L112, a female calf of L86. A full necropsy was conducted on Feb. 12.
An internal exam revealed significant trauma around the head, chest and right side; at this point the cause of these injuries is unknown.
Samples were taken for a variety of analyses. Processing of samples could take several weeks or months, and will hopefully provide insight into the origin of the traumatic injuries or other factors that may have contributed to the death of this whale. More information is available on the Cascadia Research website.
A killer whale calf stranded on the Washington coast on Nov. 14, 2011. A genetics sample was taken and the female calf was confirmed as an eastern North Pacific offshore whale. A congenital defect was determined to be the cause of death.