British Columbia's endangered population of orcas is facing its worse die-off in a decade.
Seven orcas from the local resident population are believed to have died in the last year. This lowers the number of resident orcas to 83. Historically, the number has been around 120, until it reached a low of 71 in 1973.
What is worrying is that two of the deaths are breeding-age females. Infant mortality among the three local pods is normally around 50%. As well, chinook salmon stocks, the orca's main food source, are disappearing and many biologists are fearful for the whales' survival.
Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research executive director said, "They need to eat and that means they need chinook salmon. We have to manage our wild salmon properly and that means for the benefit of the ecosystem and natural world, rather than jobs. It's going to be at least 20 years of nail-biting to see if they are going to make it."
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network also fears for the local pods' survival. He said, "This is a drastically steep drop-off and, if the conditions don't improve, meaning more chinook, we might see this for the next few years and this population can't stand that. It's hard to imagine they could disappear."