The latest addition – a calf named L124– is the second successful birth for 32-year-old mom, L77 Matia, who appears in good health. (Photo Melissa Pinnow/Centre of Whale Research)

New orca calf in Salish Sea ‘healthy and active’

Birth cause for celebration but things still dire genetically, expert says

A new calf, born three weeks ago into a group of critically endangered southern resident orcas, appears “healthy and active,” leading experts to be cautiously optimistic.

The latest addition – a calf named L124 – is the second successful birth for 32-year-old mom, L77 Matia, who appears in good health. She also has a 7-year-old daughter named L119 Joy, having lost one calf previously.

The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour, Wash., reported seeing the new calf Jan. 11. While the gender has not been confirmed, it was “bouncing around” between its mother, sister and three other orcas in the pod. Many of the males in L-pod, both young and old, were “especially playful.”

The birth is cause for celebration; however, Dr. Lauren McWhinnie, marine biologist and researcher at University of Victoria, says things are still dire genetically.

This the first successful birth in three years for the resident orcas, made up of 75 members in the L, J and K pods.

Last July, a calf in the J-pod died shortly after birth and his mother J35 garnered international attention for what scientists have called a mourning ritual, involving carrying her dead calf over 1,500 kilometres over a period of nearly three weeks.

RELATED: Calf born to endangered Pacific Northwest orcas

The survival rate for calves dramatically increases after the two-year mark.

“There are few reproductive females left and we are likely to lose another two whales this year,” says McWhinnie. “The odds are currently stacked against them. They are by no means out of the woods.”

One of the whales struggling is a “post-reproductive” female in J-pod.

“She is the matriarch. It is devastating as grandmothers take on a very important role in the pod,” says McWhinnie.

The second orca known to be sick and one researchers fear could die within months, is a male in K-pod.

“His mom died a couple years ago and his health has since been in decline,” says McWhinnie, explaining that calves stay with their mothers for life.

While all three pods of the southern resident orcas aren’t often seen all together in the Salish Sea, McWhinnie says they congregated together shortly after the recent birth.

“I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but you can’t help but feel like they came together to celebrate the birth,” McWhinnie says.

RELATED: More Puget Sound orcas predicted to die by summer

McWhinnie reminds people to give the orcas a wide berth, saying researchers in Washington and B.C. have both pulled back over recent years and are just doing non-invasive research so as not to add stress to the struggling group.


 

keri.coles@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay West Candidates (L to R) Glen Byle (Conservative), Katrine Conroy (NDP), Andrew Duncan (Green), Corbin Kelley (Liberal), Fletcher Quince (Independent, Ed Varney (Independent).
Katrine Conroy leading in Kootenay West

Preliminary results put NDP candidate firmly in the lead.

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read