An amazing six baby orcas were born this year in the Puget Sound off the state of Washington, bringing the population up to 83.
The most recent calf, spotted in late October, was born to J pod and is the third calf to join the pod this year. Designated as J53, the calf was seen traveling with a 38 year old female called J17, assumed to be his mother. The second most recent calf was spotted in early September and was designated as L122, as she was born to a 20-year-old killer whale from L-Pod known as L91.
The Southern Resident killer whales make up three distinct pods and live on the West Coast between Monterey, California, and Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands all year. Researchers track them via photo confirmation, identifying them by unique black and white markings and variations in their fin shapes.
Last July, the area’s killer whales numbered 78, making them highly endangered. Their numbers have fallen by approximately 20% since the mid-1990s, mainly because their preferred prey, chinook salmon, is also endangered. They also struggle because of pollution, habitat disturbance and other various reasons.
Another issue for the whales is that only 50% of the orca calves survive. Senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research, who keeps the official census of Puget Sound orcas for the federal government, Ken Balcomb says:
“We’re excited. They passed the dangerous part. We’re not in the clear yet. They’ll be weaning in a year. They have to make it there and have to learn how to eat and have to have food to eat. But we’re upbeat.”
The pictures below are from the Center For Whale Research and feature the two newest babies J53 and L122. Check out some here and see more at the Center For Whale Research: