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As many as five killer whales that usually swim with pods along the B.C. coast have been missing for more than a month and researchers say they fear the marine mammals may be dead.
Three of the orcas belong to the southern resident population, which is found off southern Vancouver Island, Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"Losing young animals like this from the population is not a good thing because for the population to grow, it really needs as many productive females as possible."
The three missing orcas -- Raven, 20-year-old Hugo (L71), and 34-year-old Jellyroll (L43) -- came from the K and L pods that ply the waters off southern B.C. and northern Washington.
"Individuals very, very rarely leave their group, and if they do, they're in almost all cases dead," Ford said.
Females live for an average of 50 years, while males typically make it to 30.