Great news: the Southern resident orca have been sighted with their first new calf since 2012! The calf has been designated as L120 by the Center for Whale Research.
More information from the Center for Whale Research:
A New Baby in L Pod! – L120
Whale researchers from the Center for Whale Research from San Juan Island were excited yesterday when they encountered a subgroup of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW’s in official jargon) in the Strait ofJuan de Fuca near Salmon Bank. Tucked between two adult females in L pod was a very small newborn killer whale that still had creases on its side due to “fetal folds”, indicating it was probably less than one week old. The baby’s dorsal fin was upright (not folded over), indicating it was probably more than one day old, so we are estimating its birthday was in early September 2014. The last time this subgroup of L pod whales was in the area was on 19 August, at which time the baby must have still been ‘in utero’ – near term, but not yet born. Gestation in this species is approximately 17 months, and obligatory lactation is about one year by which time a young whale can eat solid food – in the SRKW case solid food means salmon.
The adult female whales accompanying the new baby were L27 (age about 50 yrs) and L86 (age 23), with the latter being the presumed mother due to her younger age and reproductive history. The older female, L27, had produced four known babies during the course of our studies, none of which have survived. Her most recent known baby was born in 1995 and it survived until 1998. The cause of death for the babies is unknown, and L27 has presumably reached menopause that occurs around age 40 in killer whales. The presumed mother, L86, has given birth to two known offspring – a male (L106) born in 2005, and a female (L112) born in 2009. The male offspring is still alive, now a rambunctious nine-year old, and was accompanying the two adult females and baby seen yesterday. L86’s three year old daughter, L112, was tragically killed by “unknown blunt force trauma” with no evidence of a ship strike during a military sonar and explosive detonation exercise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 6 February 2012. The details of investigation concerning her death were a bit fuzzy at the time, and are currently the subject of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) inquiry.
The birth of a new baby SRKW is cause to celebrate, but we must keep in mind that the home-waters of these whales are and have been extensively utilized for bilateral military exercises (US and Canada) involving powerful sonar, live ammunition firing, and bombing practice; and, they are also used extensively for commercial and recreational fisheries on salmon that the whales require for food, widespread industrial development, continuous shipping export of raw materials and energy products, shipping import of almost all non-essential and essential manufactured products for western north American use, sewage disposal, and urbanization of the terrestrial habitat for a human population of millions that is growing exponentially. It is a wonder that the SRKW’s are still trying to survive in this designated critical habitat (a document of words and geographic coordinates). Let us toast to the new baby, and ponder the human role in its future – Yeah L120!
Photo: L-pod orca with 2012 calf L119, (c) BDMLR Orca Aware.