Orca's head scanned for internal damage

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 24, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 24 at 7:41 PM

LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- Technicians had to get a little rough moving around a patient for a CT scan Friday -- but the patient didn't seem to mind.

A CT scan was performed on the 250-pound head of the orca known as L-112 at the Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle. The scan will help scientists look for evidence into what may have caused her death.

L-112's body washed up on the shore near Long Beach almost two weeks ago. Born in 2009, she was part of the southern resident L Pod. L-112 was a healthy young orca, often photographed with the rest of the L Pod near the San Juan Islands.

Initial inspections by Cascadia Research and other groups found obvious signs of trauma to her head, neck and right side, but no outward signs of broken bones. That opened the door to the possibility that the member of the endangered L Pod had been exposed to some major underwater noise.

Intense sonar use has been blamed for causing the deaths or strandings of other sea mammals and some scientists are convinced it can cause severe damage to the sensitive hearing systems of several species.  

The Canadian Navy admitted to using sonar in an area where orcas were observed days before L-112's body was found. A CT scan can detect damage to an orca's hearing system caused by exposure to sonar.

If the CT scan finds severe internal damage to the hearing system and not to other bones in the skull, that will open to door to more investigation into possible underwater noise. If it has many broken bones, then it could have died from a ship strike, a fight with other orcas, or some other kind of collision.

Results won't be completely analyzed for several days or even months.

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