New Baby Gives Imperiled Orcas a Happy New Year’s Surprise

Orca researchers monitoring an endangered population in the Pacific Northwest stumbled upon a happy surprise to kick off the new year when they discovered the birth of a calf.

The newborn was spotted on December 30 by Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit from the Center for Whale Research, who were out observing members of the J pod off the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.

The birth has again raised hope for the future survival of this group of orcas, otherwise known as the southern resident killer whales, who live in three distinct pods (J, K and L).

The calf doesn’t have a name yet, but has been as designated J50 and was reported to be healthy and energetic.

At first, the mother was first thought to be Slick (J26), a 43-year-old who would have been the oldest known orca ever documented to give birth, but further observations have raised questions about who the real mother is.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) explained in an update that J50′s dorsal fin showed tooth marks that indicate other orcas may have acted as midwives, assisting the birth by pulling J50 out with their mouths. J50 was also seen swimming away from Slick and was herded back by other family members, which is unusual for calves who typically spend their first few months attached to their mother’s side.

These observations led to the conclusion that Slick may actually be J50′s grandmother and that her daughter Alki (J36) is J50′s mother. Alki was not initially spotted, raising concerns that she may have died during birth. However, she was later seen with the pod leading to a hopeful conclusion that Slick was just helping her recover by babysitting the little newcomer.

Scientists studying them won’t know more until they’re spotted again, so we can only wait and hope for the best.

It has been more than two years since the last successful birth for this population. Despite protection in both in the U.S. and Canada, their survival continues to hang in the balance as they continue to suffer heartbreaking losses.

They have already lost two adult members this year — 37-year-old L53 (Lulu) and 13-year-old L100 (Indigo) — which brought the population down to the lowest itís been since 1985. In September, a calf was born in the L pod, but tragically did not survive.

The latest blow to their population came in December, with the confirmation that Rhapsody (J32), an 18-year-old female member of the J-pod who was pregnant, had died. Rhapsody’s death brought their numbers down to only 77, which leaves them with 11 fewer members than there were when they were declared endangered in 2005.

While this unique population continues to face a barrage of threats ranging from boat traffic and noise to toxic pollutants, many believe that the biggest problem they now face is now a lack of chinook salmon, their main food source.

In an effort to help them survive, WDC is campaigning to get Congress to pass the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, which will ensure funding for the removal of four dams in the Klamath River, which these salmon rely on.

For more info on how to help these orcas survive, check out WDC’s Don’t Let Our Orcas Be Dammed campaign and the Center for Whale Research.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

161 comments

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago

Have to wonder, after "sharing" this good news, how long it will remain in the wild.

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Donna T.
Donna T2 years ago

That made my day :)

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Terry Wheeler
Terry Wheeler2 years ago

Ty

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Hent Catalina-Maria

Thanks for sharing.

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Joan E.
Joan E2 years ago

Petitions to save the orcas signed. Congratulations on the new addition. May they continue, and may humans stop the practices that threaten their survival.

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Elfje Muse
Elfje Muse2 years ago

Very good thank you so much

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Nadja Debrunner
Nadja Debrunner2 years ago

Nice.

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Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard2 years ago

thank you

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Miriam O.

Thank you for sharing! AWESOME!

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