The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says the baby, part of the J pod of the southern resident orca population, has stayed healthy since it was first spotted Dec. 30 off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.
The newborn whale is being called J-50. Researchers say they are now working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to gather more information about the baby’s mother.
Experts originally identified a whale in her early 40s known as J-16 seen swimming alongside the calf as its mother, but now say she might have actually been looking after the newborn for her daughter – a 16-year-old orca called J-36.
If J-16 is the mother, she will be the oldest southern resident orca to give birth in more than four decades of field studies.
Southern resident killer whales are considered an endangered species, with just 78 in the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, including the new arrival. But the arrival of the newborn orca is considered an encouraging sign following the death earlier this month of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.
Now, everyone is hoping J-50 survives. An estimated 35 percent to 45 percent of orcas die in their first year, said Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.