Three more southern resident killer whales have been declared dead by the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research.
The whales were part of an extremely endangered orca population that historically frequents the Salish Sea almost daily in summer months.
The southern-resident killer whale population — composed of individuals from three pods (J,K and L) — has dropped to 73.
The three whales presumed dead are: J17, a 42-year-old female; K25, a 26-year-old male; and L84, a 28-year-old male.
J17, considered the matriarch of the J pod group of whales, was the mother of Tahlequah, also known as J35, who carried her dead calf for an unprecedented 17 days last year.
“We reported J17 was not in good body condition last winter, perhaps from stress,” the Center for Whale Research said in a statement on Tuesday.
The center said that due to the scarcity of suitable chinook salmon prey, this population of whales now rarely visits the core waters of what had been its designated critical habitat: Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the inland reach of the Juan de Fuca Strait.