- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A baby orca that washed up dead on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, appeared to have an infection, but an examination has not revealed an obvious cause of death, an official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said Wednesday.

Scientists also must wait for DNA test results to conclude whether the orca found last week belonged to the endangered population of killer whales that frequents Puget Sound waters, said Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the Canadian agency.

The closely watched southern resident killer whales have experienced a baby boom, with eight new calves born in the past year, raising hopes for the population that now numbers 84.

It doesn’t appear that the orca is one of the Puget Sound killer whales based on a photograph of the animal’s eye patch, said Dave Ellifrit, a research associate with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor. Each orca is identified by unique black and white markings near their eyes or variations in their fin shapes.

A surfer discovered the 340-pound female calf on Dec. 23 in a remote location near Barkley Sound, south of Ucluelet, Cottrell said. A necropsy was performed two days later after the orca was taken to Abbotsford.

The whale was just over 7 feet long and was “pretty beat up,” Cottrell said. It was at least a week old and could be several months old.

Tests on tissue samples could provide more answers about why the calf died, Cottrell said.

“It’s obviously a big deal, and we want to know what happened,” he said.

There were a lot of transient killer whales in the area, suggesting that it could be a transient orca, Cottrell said. DNA tests will determine what population to which the orca belonged.

Transient killer whales typically eat marine mammals and travel in smaller groups than Puget Sound orcas, which primarily eat salmon and live in complex family groups.??

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