Locals and environmentalists are mourning the death of Rhapsody, the beloved killer whale who was found dead earlier this month in the Georgia Strait off British Columbia.
The necropsy discovered that the juvenile orca was pregnant with a full-term fetus at the time of her death.
The killer whale belonged to the southern resident population, an endangered group that totaled only 78 whales throughout the three pods. Rhapsody was one of the few breeding females.
The necropsy has yet to discover conclusively what killed Rhapsody, but some scientists who have inspected the carcass believe that the 18-year-old whale may have died during childbirth. Preliminary observations suggest that the fetus died before Rhapsody, and that she may have succumbed to infections caused by the miscarriage.
Peter Ross, a pollution researcher at the Vancouver Aquarium, said that pollutants and dwindling food resources could have also said contributed to Rhapsody’s death.
“We have long been concerned about very high levels of endocrine-disrupting pollutants in these whales, reduced food supply—notably chinook salmon—and noise disturbance,” Ross told the CBC.
Whale watchers began speculating that Rhapsody was pregnant last June when they noticed her bloated belly when she breached. The new baby would’ve brought the southern resident population up to 79. There hasn’t been a successful birth in the population for two and a half years.
Rhapsody’s death marks the fourth death this year alone in the southern resident population, who live in the Salish Sea off the coast of southern British Columbia and Washington State. Two whales died this past summer while a calf died around eight weeks ago. Now, the group total number is 77.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, more tests will be done in the coming weeks to determine what exactly killed Rhapsody.
“It’s a magnificent animal…so it’s terrible and we want to figure out what the cause of death was here and how this animal died, “ marine mammal co-coordinator Paul Cottrell told the CBC.