Orca Baby Boom Hits Puget Sound

In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya's Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo

In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo

 

By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth baby orca documented this winter.

The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia.

The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government.

The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.”

PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

Candice Emmons/NOAA/AP Photo
PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent.

“Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday.

“It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism.

“We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

Old year ends with newborn baby orca in our Salish Sea

Orcas are an endangered species in inland waters of the Salish Sea, encompassing Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Orcas are an endangered species in inland waters of the Salish Sea, encompassing Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Joel Connelly, Seattle PI

 

The last days of 2014 have brought glad tidings and great joy to those who follow and worry about the southern resident community of orcas (killer whales) that inhabit the Salish Sea, the inland waters of Washington and southern British Columbia.

A newborn orca was discovered Tuesday looking “healthy and energetic” and being snuggled by its mother off South Pender Island, just over the border in B.C.’s Gulf Islands. The discovery was made by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

The baby, christened J50, was born to 42-year-old J16 (Slick), who has produced five offspring, three living, with the oldest 23-year-old J26 (Mike).

“We’re excited!” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.  “She (J16) sets a new bar, a new record for the oldest to give birth, by a year or two.”

The birth of J50 raises the southern resident community population to 78.

The southern residents were classified in 2005 under the Endangered Species Act at a time when the population of the great marine mammals had fallen to 78.

Orcas are particular about their diet. They feed off chinook salmon, in a region where salmon stocks have declined due to factors ranging from habitat destruction to pollution to bad forest practices to overfishing.

The orcas do not consume any of the millions of sockeye salmon that head for B.C.’s Fraser River each year through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.  “We wish they would,” joked Garrett.

The region’s inland waters have two major populations of orcas.  The northern resident community spends July through September in waters of Johnstone Strait off northern Vancouver Island.  The orcas are renowned for rubbing against pebbles just offshore from the mouth of the Tsitika River near Alert Bay.

The northern residents head north in the winter, presumably to southeast Alaska waters.  The northern resident community totals about 250 orcas.

The diets of the southern resident and northern resident communities “are the same,” Garrett explained, “but their communication and call system are entirely different.  Their is no overlap, no interaction between the two communities.”

The birth of J50, in a month when the southern residents have been seen in both the San Juans and Gulf Islands, puts the spotlight on a major decision pending in Canada.

The giant Houston-based Kinder Morgan pipeline company wants to triple the capacity of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to a refinery in Burnaby, just east of Vancouver.  The completed pipeline would carry more oil than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline designed to link Alberta oilfields to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The enlarged Trans-Mountain Pipeline would bring oil from Alberta’s vast tar sands project to the coast for export to Asia.

If the Kinder Morgan project goes through, an estimated 30 tankers a month — up from four at the present time — would traverse Haro Strait, a middle point in habitat for the southern resident community and the marine boundary between the U.S. San Juan and Canada’s Gulf Islands.  Both countries have national parks and monuments in the islands.

A major environmental battle over Kinder Morgan is underway north of the border.

Baby Orca Missing In Puget Sound And Presumed Dead

A calf born this year to a resident Puget Sound orca has not been seen recently and scientists think it may have died. | rollover image for more

A calf born this year to a resident Puget Sound orca has not been seen recently and scientists think it may have died. | rollover image for more

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Orca enthusiasts rejoiced when a newborn calf was spotted 7 weeks ago.

But as of Tuesday morning, the endangered killer whale calf has not been seen.

L120 was the first calf born in the past 2 years. The calf’s mother was spotted three times since Friday. Her baby was nowhere to be seen.

Orca experts believe the calf is dead, though no carcass has been found and it’s unclear how it died.

Orcas in Puget Sound are known to have high levels of toxic agents in their bodies. The pollution can be transferred from mothers to their offspring during gestation and while nursing.

Lack of food is another potential cause of death. Southern Resident killer whales rely on chinook salmon, which are also endangered.

There are now just 78 resident orcas left. That’s about how many there were back in 2005 when the animals were first put on the endangered species list.