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OSU researcher revisits dead orca saga through genetic analysis

Photos provided by Charles Nye, OSU; NOAA Fisheries
OSU researcher Charles Nye performs a serial dilution on the killer whale DNA taken from the crab pot line it was ensnared in (left); the carcass of the killer whale off the Oregon Coast, outside of Bandon in the summer of 2022.

Earlier this year, KLCC reported on a killer whale carcass spotted off the Oregon Coast. While the carcass was never recovered, an Oregon State University researcher has made some determinations from its genetic residue.

The dead orca was first spotted by an angler in June. Its body was entangled with crabbing gear. Marine researchers hoped to learn the cause of death and its identity, but the carcass disappeared.

Photo provided by Charles Nye, OSU.
A vial of the dead orca's genetic material.

Some worried that it was K44, one of several endangered Southern Resident killer whales that disappeared around the same time.

Charles Nye, a graduate fellow with OSU’s Marine Mammals Institute, said he was able to examine some organic material from the crabbing gear line.

“That was pretty reminiscent of blubber or skin on a decayed whale. I’d done dissections and sampling of very far gone whales in the past, and this kinda matched that consistency.”

Nye has determined that the dead orca was not K44. He said while this is good news of sorts, it’s still sad the orca got entangled and people need to responsibly manage their crabbing gear.

©2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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