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Orca's Shoreside Death Is A Devastating Blow To Her Community

<p>Sara Hysong Shimazu</p>

On Dec. 4, a lone orca washed up on shore in Georgia Strait. Immediately conflicting rumors began to circulate, ranging from the orca being a male to being a female that possibly died while birthing a calf. After photos were sent to Ken Balcomb for the Center for Whale Research and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the orca was successfully identified as 18-year-old J32 Rhapsody.

While the death of any orca isn't good news, this is devastating. This endangered family of orcas is now at an all time low of 77 members. Many people had been hopeful that J32 might be getting ready to have her first calf as she appeared to be in the late stages of pregnancy this past summer. Some speculate that it may have contributed to her death.

Thanks to a grant from the Milgard Foundation, Ken Balcomb will be able to attend and assist in the necropsy which will take place this Saturday. It will tell us if J32 was in fact pregnant and may also lead researchers to determine the cause of her death. If she was in fact pregnant and gave birth to a live calf, it is unlikely that it will survive for long without its mother.

Rhapsody will be remembered as a very active and special whale. She was known for "pop-corning" out of the water, giving orca lovers a treat whenever she was around.

J32's mother J20 Ewok died when Rhapsody was only two years old. Her aunt J22 Oreo raised her and she was often seen with Oreo's sons J34 DoubleStuf and J38 Cookie.

This is the fourth death in the southern resident population this year. 37-year-old L53 Lulu and 13-year-old L100 Indigo went missing earlier in 2014. The first calf born in two years, L120, went missing after just seven weeks of life. The possibility of Rhapsody's pregnancy made many people hopeful. One must now wonder what is in store for these orcas that so many have come to treasure. Can they be saved?