L47, mother of three surviving orcas and grandmother of two, is shown breaching in 2020. L47 hasn’t been seen in about seven months and is presumed dead.

On the heels of an announcement that three Southern Resident orcas are pregnant comes word that a mother and grandmother orca of L pod is presumed dead.

The loss of the grandmother orca, L47, brings the population to 73.

According to the Center for Whale Research, L47 was born in 1974 and gave birth to seven calves throughout her life. Three of her offspring, one son and two daughters, survive today. Both daughters now have male sons.

The Center for Whale Research announced the presumed death of L47 Monday.

“We’ve finally been able to survey her family group well enough multiple times to be confident that she is missing, rather than just being missed on particular days,” center field biologist Michael Weiss told the Skagit Valley Herald.

The orca was last seen in February. She was subsequently missing from summer surveys conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as during six Center for Whale Research observations of her L pod family this month.

Weiss said L47’s family group was seen near Vancouver Island on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, and west of San Juan Island on Sept. 9, 11, 12 and 15.

“Her repeated absence meets our criteria for declaring a whale missing and likely deceased,” a Center for Whale Research news release states.

According to recent research, the loss of a grandmother orca may have severe consequences for the population because older, post-reproductive females hold key leadership roles, particularly when food is scarce.

The Center for Whale Research estimates that without L47, her son and her grandsons in particular are at increased risk of death within the next two years.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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