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Grandmother orca among two missing Southern Resident killer whales

Researchers have not seen the grandmother whale since February. She would be 47 years old this year.

SEATTLE — Two more Southern Resident killer whales are missing and removed from the latest population numbers, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) announced Monday.

A 47-year-old grandmother orca is missing from her pod and likely deceased. CWR confirmed a 35-year-old male orca is deceased after showing extreme emaciation.

The grandmother orca, known as L47, was last seen by researchers in a British Columbia channel on Feb. 27. Her appearance did not concern CWR experts at the time. Since then, American and Canadian researchers have encountered her offspring seven times with no signs of L47.

Researchers determined her repeated absence fit the criteria for a whale that is likely deceased.

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CWR said L47 "had seven calves that survived long enough to be given an alpha-numeric designation, the most of any Southern Resident." She has three surviving calves and two grand offspring.

L47's disappearance heightens concern for her offspring, given the important role played by matriarchal orcas.

CWR said, "Her son, L115, is at an approximately three times greater risk of death in the next two years than a male of the same age would be with a surviving mother."

The second missing orca is a 35-year-old male, known as K21. He was last seen by researchers in July and showed severe emaciation. CWR declared K21 deceased after repeated surveys of the K pod with no signs of him.

The loss of L47 and K21 brings the total Southern Resident killer whale population down to 73.

There is some good news for the population, though. Researchers recently documented three pregnant orcas among the Southern Resident killer whales.

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