British Columbia

Orca midwife? J50 shows signs of difficult birth say researchers

The birth of a new calf to a pod of resident orcas was likely a difficult birth, assisted by a "midwife" orca.

Teeth marks on dorsal fin show J50 may have been pulled from womb during difficult birth

Newborn orca J50 swims with her family, J-pod, but researchers have yet to confirm which adult female in the group is her mother. (Center for Whale Research)

The birth of a new calf to a pod of resident orcas was likely a difficult birth, assisted by a "midwife" orca, according to a non-profit organization.

"The calf had these deep tooth rake marks on its dorsal fin," Howard Garrett, the coordinator of the Orca Network told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"That could only have been from being pulled around, probably out of the mom, out of the womb during a difficult birth."

It's not uncommon for orcas to have help during a birth.

"Anytime there's a baby born, there's always escorts — an auntie that's around to help with the birth and quite a few others. It's sort of a community event when a baby is born," said Garrett.

J50 never strayed too far from J16, usually swimming tucked right in behind her, although occasionally she would strike out on her own for a short distance. (Alisa Lemire Brooks/YouTube)

J50 was first spotted on Dec. 30, 2014, and was likely born a few days before.

Garrett said it's not clear which orca is the mother, but the calf has been seen consistently with J16, also known as "Slick."

J16 is 42 or 43 years old, which is older than what is known to be the reproductive age for southern resident orcas, said Garrett.

The southern resident killer whales are considered a species at risk, and there is a 35 to 45 per cent mortality rate among calves. 

Despite the likely tricky circumstances of her birth, J50 appears to be in good health.

"I believe J50 is a bouncing baby girl and looking very good at last reports," said Garrett.

For an update on J50 and what researchers are learning about the new calf, click the audio labelled: Howard Garrett on J50.


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