Orcas

Orcas from the J, K and L pods, seen here in January, are currently returning to the area. Two of the pods were seen this week near the San Juan Islands and Point no Point.

The endangered Southern Resident orca community has expanded for the second time in less than a month.

A second new calf was born into J Pod in the past week or so, according to the Center for Whale Research.

If the new calf is healthy, the center will assign a designation, much like the one its mother J41 holds, once the pod returns to the Salish Sea.

Approximately 40% of newborn calves do not survive longer than a few weeks.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association spotted the new calf Sept. 24, according to a statement from the Center for Whale Research.

Talia Goodyear and Lea Vanderwiel, naturalists aboard Orca Spirit Adventures, told the center their vessel was present during the birth, according to the statement.

“It was an emotional time as we processed what was happening in front of us,” Vanderwiel said in the Center for Whale Research news release. “It took a few minutes to realize what was actually happening, but then it was pure excitement realizing that it was a birth and the baby was very alive and boisterous.”

Center field staff member Mark Malleson encountered J Pod later that day near Sheringham Point, B.C., but because they were spread out and foraging, he could not locate J41 or the new calf before dark, according to the statement.

In early September, a calf designated as J57 was born. Its mother is J35, also known as Tahlequah, who made national news in 2018 after her calf died and the grieving mother pushed and carried it for about 17 days and 1,000 miles.

Recently, the Center for Whale Research confirmed that her new calf J57 is a male after he was spotted and photographed near Point Roberts Sept. 22, looking robust and healthy.

“He was photographed rolling, spyhopping, and swimming alongside his mother, who was actively foraging for food,” a release from the center states.

Orcas have a gestation period of about 18 months.

The population of Southern Resident orcas, made up of J, K, and L pods, reaches 74 whales with the addition of both J57 and the new orca calf.

Meanwhile, K Pod has returned to the area.

Members of K Pod were seen and heard off of San Juan Island on Sunday, Sept. 27, according to the Orca Network. The J Pod whales have also returned and were seen near Point no Point, as well. Members of the nonprofit’s Whale Sighting network reported hearing the whales throughout the night and spotting surface activity.

The Orca Network is encouraging boaters to follow the law and share the water responsibly with the endangered orcas, especially with two young calves and pregnant whales in K and L pods.

Boaters should stay 300-400 yards away from the orcas, slow to 7 knots, stay out of the whales’ path and stop boats if the whales come nearby.

The Southern Resident orcas were listed as endangered in 2005 and have not recovered their numbers. One reason is suspected to be lack of prey, as the whales’ primary food source is salmon, which is also struggling, according to the center.

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