SEATTLE — Officials in Canada say an endangered Puget Sound orca found off the coast of British Columbia died of blunt trauma to its head and dorsal side.
The initial necropsy from Fisheries and Oceans Canada shows the 18-year-old male killer whale was alive at the time he was hit.
Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the agency, said Friday that the 22-foot long whale was likely struck, though it’s unclear whether it was by a boat or another animal. The agency is investigating the cause and conducting more blood and tissue tests on the whale.
The orca known as J-34 was seen floating Tuesday near the shore of Sechelt, northwest of Vancouver.
The Center for Whale Research says four other whales in the J pod — one of three families of endangered southern resident killer whales — have died this year. There were also at least four births to the group documented earlier this year.
There are now believed to be just 79 southern resident killer whales remaining in the population, which makes its home in the Salish Sea, the waterways stretching from northwest Washington State to British Columbia.
Worldwide, there are about 50,000 killer whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.