Teeth Stolen From Dead, Pregnant Orca
An orca that was laying on a Vancouver Island beach was mutilated by thiefs.
The orca, tagged as J32 by scientists, and nicknamed “Rhapsody”, was originally found near Courtenay, British Columbia, around December 1st. Before Canadian wildlife specialists could perform a necroscopy, local residents had found that someone had cut out the teeth of the whale before the examination of the carcass on Saturday morning.
Marcie Callawaert, a scientist with the Victoria Marine Science Association, was distraught by the trophy hunters. “It’s a crime that can’t be described. It’s a crime against science; it’s a crime against her and the respect to Rhapsody.”
Cottrell said the department is investigating and will pursue charges against whoever is responsible.
“We’ve got a few leads and we’re working really hard to find out who did this,” Cottrell said. “We will do everything we can to find that out and charge them if we can locate where the teeth are. We don’t want a black market in illegal species. We take it very seriously.”
In spite of the damage done to the carcass, scientists did a full necroscopy on the whale, finding that she was pregnant with a full term calf.
Dr. Justin Rosenberg, a veterinary fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium said the theft would hinder certain parts of the research that looked at the orca’s overall dentition, Rosenberg said.
“It really is kind of an absolutely disheartening thing, to have an already tragic experience made even more tragic because someone has gone and essentially vandalized and done harm to the animal,” he said. “We went on with the overall necropsy and we’re just grateful they didn’t do anything else to hinder our diagnostic abilities and scientific exploration.”
With the death of Rhapsody, the population of the Southern Resident Killer Whales pod is down to 77 individuals. This pod hunts in a territory that runs north to Vancouver and the Inland Archipelago, and down to the southern coast of Washington State.
The loss of Rhapsody is particularly chilling because the pod doesn’t have a large number of breeding age females, and Rhapsody was both pregnant, and just entering her peak breeding years. The population is small and the species is endangered. Scientists have not yet determined the cause of death for Rhapsody, and further tests are being performed. Initial causes of death that appear to be ruled out are a boat collision, or an attack by predators. Scientists are searching for any signs of a disease or parasite; small populations can suffer precipitous population drops when a new disease is introduced.
Once the necroscopy is completed, current plans are to preserve Rhapsody’s body, and display it at the Royal BC Museum.
dead orca was pregnant