BRITISH COLUMBIA

Dead Orca Found Off B.C. Coast Is 'Tragic' Loss (PHOTOS)

12/05/2014 03:18 EST | Updated 12/05/2014 03:59 EST

dead orca j32

The body of J32, nicknamed Rhapsody, was found this week off the B.C. coast. (Photo: Bates Beach Resort)

An endangered killer whale found dead near Courtenay, B.C. may have had complications with a pregnancy, said scientists.

The orca's body was found floating in the water near a Comox Valley resort on Thursday. George Bates, who used to work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and now owns the Bates Beach Resort, helped pull it onto the shore.

The Center For Whale Research identified the orca as 18-year-old J32, who was known as Rhapsody. She was thought to be in the late stages of pregnancy when her wide girth was spotted last summer, said the group.

A necropsy will be conducted this weekend to determine the whale's cause of death, and to confirm if she was pregnant.

"Based on historical information and clinical observations, the whale's death may have arisen from pregnancy or complications of birth," Dr. Stephen Raverty, a federal veterinary pathologist, told The Associated Press.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research, added that from photos, it looked like the orca's belly was "low and extended, and it could be that the fetus died in utero."

Rhapsody was part of a distinct population or orcas known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales, which is made up of three pods. What was a population of 140 whales decades ago dwindled in the '70s when the animals were captured for marine parks and aquariums. They were listed as endangered in 2005.

"There were 78. There are now 77. We're going down, and it's tragic," Balcomb told AP.

Rhapsody's mother died when she was two, and she was raised by her aunt J22 Oreo. She is also survived by her cousins J34 Doublestuf and J38 Cookie, said the Orca Network.

"We cannot express how tragic this loss is for this struggling, precariously small, family of resident orcas of the Salish Sea," said a statement by the group.

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