SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. - Orca researcher Ken Balcomb and his crew from The Center for Whale Research were on the water Tuesday, observing killer whales from two resident pods - J and K. But what they are most hoping to see is L-Pod.
Nobody has laid eyes on the full pod since once of its members, a young female dubbed L-112, washed up dead on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula.
"I'm worried members of her immediate family may have been with her when she died," said Balcomb, who believes the orca's death may be due to military sonar or some kind of underwater explosion.
Others also believe that, based on tests on the orca's body that showed it suffered some kind of massive trauma but had no broken bones. Those types of injuries may be consistent with exposure to extreme percussion from an explosion.
NOAA has been investigating military training sessions by the Canadian Navy in the San Juan Islands during the days leading up to the death of the orca but on Tuesday, spokesman Brian Gorman said ocean currents make it very unlikely the orca was injured or killed in the San Juans and then drifted out to open ocean and down south to the Long Beach Peninsula.
Balcomb agrees the currents run South to North that time of year but wants the U.S. Navy to provide information on training exercises closer to Long Beach. He would also like to know if there was some kind of detonation, either intentional or accidental in that area in early February when the orca died.
Most believe the death of L-112 was an isolated incident but Balcomb will not rest easy until he can look at the entire L-pod which usually arrives in June.