Tragedy struck in Northwest Canada on Thursday, when an orca, known officially as J-32 but colloquially as Rhapsody, was found dead. Her pregnancy could have been a factor, according to a Washington state news outlet.
As a pregnant orca in the family group known as J Pod, the loss of Rhapsody comes at a particularly hard time, as many of the other J orcas are aging out of their breeding years. Her death brings the number of whales down to 77, from a high of about 200 in the 1800s.
Adding insult to injury, an individual or group removed Rhapsody's teeth sometime between Friday evening and Saturday morning. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans had moved her body to Vancouver Island overnight; when they returned the next day, her jaw was no longer intact, and teeth and pieces of her gum were missing.
"It's just a senseless, illegal act," Paul Cottrell, the department's marine mammal official, told The Canadian Press. "We take this kind of thing seriously. We don't want endangered species parts being traded or sold."
As such, the removal of Rhapsody's teeth is a sort of poaching. Canada's Species At Risk act, like the U.S. Endangered Species Act, makes it illegal to own parts of orcas or any other animal who is endangered. The demand for ivory, horns and animal parts is a driver for species extinction as well as terrorism. Though poaching may bring to mind elephants or rhinos in Africa, it also affects species in North America, like bears, who are killed for their gallbladders.