The U.S. Center for Whale Research has confirmed the sighting of another new calf among the endangered population of southern resident orcas.
The sighting was first reported by Pacific Whale Watch Association crews.
Capt. Spencer Domico of Legacy Charters on San Juan Island was one of the first to spot the baby.
“We were out with the J16s off the west side of San Juan Island and saw that little fin,” said Domico.
“At first we thought it was our New Year’s baby, J50. But we went about two miles and saw J50 with her mother, so we knew we had another little whale out there and got very excited. It’s great that the Centre for Whale Research has confirmed it. Now let’s do all we can to restore salmon runs out there and keep this baby fat and healthy.”
The new orca has been designated J51. It's J-Pod's second birth in two months. In December, orca J16 gave birth to J50.
New calf about one week old
After spending the last two weeks near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the center says JPod returned to the Salish Sea with the new calf in tow.
“This is about the best Valentine’s Day present you can imagine,” said Michael Harris, executive director of the PWWA, which represents 32 whale watching operators in Washington and B.C.
“We always try to be cautiously optimistic when we hear about babies, as wild orcas have a high rate of infant mortality, but still, this is wonderful news," Harris said.
The Center for Whale Research estimates the calf is about one week old. Its presumed mother is 36-year-old J19. During the sighting, J19's 10-year-old daughter, J41, was also spotted. Both were reported “swimming protectively” on either side of the baby, which the center says appears healthy.
Whale researchers are cautious when a new orca calf is born because about half don’t make it through their first year.
Prior to these two births, the first baby orca born in the Salish Sea in two years is believed to have died sometime in September or October.
In December, the pod lost J32, a pregnant mother.
A necropsy revealed she died from septicemia after the near full-term calf she was carrying died. It also disclosed a thin layer of blubber indicating the whale had not been feeding for some time and was likely starving.