Since publishing the first comprehensive paper on diseases of killer whales in 2004, SeaDoc has worked with collaborators to learn more about diseases of killer whales and how they might impact recovery of the endangered southern resident population. Last week, that tradition continued. SeaDoc's Joe Gaydos, working with scientists from NOAA, UC Santa Cruz and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, completed the necropsy of beloved southern resident J32, known to killer whale enthusiasts as Rhapsody. In December, J32 was found dead near Comox, British Columbia. Led by Dr. Steve Raverty of UBC, researchers from 8 different organizations, including Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, First Nations and the Vancouver Aquarium conducted a necropsy on the beach. They found she was pregnant with a near term fetus that had died. J32 was unable to expel the fetus and became sick and died. The head was sent to the United States for more extensive diagnostics.
While examining the head last week, Gaydos and Dyanna Lambourn of WDFW found roundworm parasites in and around the ears. While these were not associated with the stranding, it does add to our understanding of killer whale health. The ears were dissected out for CT scan at the VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle where preliminary evaluation showed nothing significant. During the necropsy, scientists from NOAA took samples to try to better understand how killer whales use the muscles in their heads to create sound. When all testing is completed, a final necropsy report will be prepared.