SAN JUAN ISLANDS, Wash. - Researchers noticed something new when the J, K and L pods were all spotted in the Haro Strait on Tuesday morning: a new calf, L125!
According to Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research, all three pods were seen swimming in the Haro Strait and Swanson Channel. CWR staff then spotted a calf trailing 30-year-old orca, L86, also known as Suprise!
The Center for Whale Research said that L125's size and shape are typical of a calf in good physical condition. Given its size and fetal folds, it's estimated that the calf is a month to a month-and-a-half old. It is unknown the sex of the new orca calf.
L125 is the first calf born into L pod since January 2019 when L77 gave birth to L124, according to Center for Whale Research.
L125 is L86's second living offspring, and fourth total. It is unknown the sex of the new orca calf.
The birth of L86's orca is important for southern resident populations. In recent years, their numbers have been drastically declining, and they are reproducing as frequently as they should.
Successful births tend to be less common due to the overfishing and reduction in salmon habitat throughout the region over the decades, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA)
PWWA says the killer whales have been finding critical food sources off the Swiftsure bank and Chinook salmon habitats to the north. Researchers also say robust and healthy-looking whales tend to find more sustainable food sources in the outside areas of the Salish Sea.
Another concern is vessel strikes and proximity to orcas, a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found. These strikes may be an "underappreciated but important" threat to orcas, NOAA said in the study.
"It's interesting that all three pods got together at the time of this birth, as happened September 5, 2020, when J35 Tahlequah gave birth to J57 and K and L pods came in from the Pacific to join J Pod," the Orca Network said in a Facebook post.
In 2020, there were at least two orca births in the J Pod. One of these births was from J35, better known as Tahlequah. Tahlequah gained international attention in 2018 when she carried her dead calf in her mouth and on her back for 17 days, swimming over 1,000 miles.
"Back in the past, in a good years, we’d have 8 new calfs in the years between J, K, and L pod. But that just doesn’t happen anymore," said David Ellifrit with Center for Whale Research. "We had a little baby boom about five years ago, but I can’t remember, several of the since then have died. And the good chunk of the rest of them are male calfs. We have lots of male calves, but not very many female calves. So in order for the population to grow, we need more of these matrilines to put out female offspring."