The Mysterious Death of Orca L112

By: 
Maria Dolan
A dead killer whale photographed in Norway.

Since researching our June article on the shaky state of local resident orca populations, I’ve been waiting for the report from NOAA’s local office, hoping they could determine what killed L112, also known as "Sooke" or "Victoria."

The young female southern resident killer whale washed up dead on the Long Beach Peninsula this February, bruised and swollen, particularly around her head and neck.

There was no conclusive cause of death found in the May 15 progress report from NOAA’s Northwest Regional Office.
Still, a few observations in this update shone a bit of light into the murky depths:

  • "A complete screen for infectious agents did not detect any significant disease-causing organisms.” Important, as a recent Seattle Times article highlighted the risk to orcas from airborne viruses and other pathogens.
  • Ocean currents at the time suggest that the animal died “near the Columbia River or to the south.”
  • Death from sonar or underwater explosives still hasn’t been ruled out, though the United States Navy told NOAA that it has “no records indicating that Navy units used sonar or explosives between Feb.1 and Feb. 11.” That is, the days prior to L112’s stranding.
  • The trauma noted around the head and neck of L112 “is consistent with physical trauma” at a level that could have killed the whale.

More studies are pending.

Read "Can Seattle Scientists Save Orcas from Extinction" for more background on this story and for information on the surprising threats orcas face in local waters.

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