12/05/2014 10:44 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST

Endangered killer whale J-32 found dead off Courtenay

A young adult killer whale that washed up on the shores of Vancouver Island on Thursday has been identified as a member of the endangered southern resident population.

The whale was discovered by residents in Courtenay who saw it floating in the water and towed it to shore.

A biologist from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — along with a whale watching expert — took preliminary samples as well as photos of the whale's dorsal fin in order to identify it.

The whale was identified as 18-year-old J-32, according to Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the department.

"It really tugs at the heart strings. It's a magnificent animal. Sixteen feet or so — so it's likely a juvenile. So, it's terrible and we want to figure out what the cause of death was here and how this animal died," said Cottrell.

According to the Orca Network J-32,  which was nicknamed Rhapsody, was thought to be in the late stages of pregnancy last summer due to her wide girth, which was visible when she breached.

"A necropsy Saturday led by Dr. Stephen Raverty will reveal if she was indeed pregnant and hopefully will find the cause of death. She was believed to have died in the past 24 to 48 hours," said the statement posted by the Orca Network.

There are several distinct populations of killer whales that visit the waters off the west coast of British Columbia, but the southern resident population, which is found off southern Vancouver Island, is listed as endangered with a population of just 77 animals.

"The loss of J-32 marks the fourth death of a southern resident orca in 2014. The last surviving southern resident baby was born in August of 2012," said the statement.