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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Starving orcas dying in Puget Sound

People gathered to listen to the announcement about the latest orca death brought signs calling for the breaching of the Snake River dams.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph
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People gathered to listen to the announcement about the latest orca death brought signs calling for the breaching of the Snake River dams.

It’s been a bad year for the southern orca community. Seattle’s Center for Whale Research says a second adult female has died. That brings the recent death toll to three.

Sister desperate

There’s more bad news. J28, the latest orca female to die, had a calf under the age of one.

Balcomb: “The child was not looking good for this entire summer either.”

This is Ken Balcomb, the director of the Center for Whale Research.

Balcomb: “And now his sister is desperately trying to keep him alive, and she can’t do it.”

Orcas are dying because they’ve been starving.

Jim Waddell, former civil engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “For these resident orcas, Chinook salmon are their primary source of food.”

Waddell says Chinook salmon are also in trouble.

Waddell: “And a large number of those, maybe at least half, come from the Snake River. So when those Snake River stocks collapse, those orcas don’t have enough to eat.”

He says the solution is to breach the dams along the Snake River.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the agency in charge of orca recovery. It has said orcas face many threats in addition to starvation, including pollution and vulnerability to oil spills.

Orcas have been on the endangered species list for a decade now. With these deaths, the southern orca population drops to 80.