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.

Endangered newborn baby orca is a girl, experts say

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)

 

By Associated Press and KOMO News Staff

 

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.

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.

Endangered Puget Sound Orca Died While Pregnant, Scientists Learn

Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Scientists determined this weekend that the dead orca that washed up on Vancouver Island last Thursday was pregnant when she died.

The young female was a member of the endangered southern resident killer whale families of Puget Sound.

Experts who conducted the necropsy on the whale said her fetus was between 5 and 6 feet long – about a half the length of the mother. The fetus was already decomposing, suggesting to scientists that the mother was attempting to expel her stillborn calf when she died.

Ken Balcomb is the head of the Center for Whale Research and helped conduct the necropsy.

He said the loss of a female of reproductive age is a blow – especially since the babies aren’t surviving.

“Over the last two and a half years we have not had any calves survive and of course 100 percent mortality in offspring is not good for future,” Balcomb said.

Balcomb and others believe that lack of food and high levels of pollution in the orcas bodies are to blame for the low survival rates of the young.

He said whales are now swimming one thousand miles or more in search of salmon to eat — a species that is also endangered.

“So when they don’t have a lot of food they have to metabolize their body fat, their blubber, and that’s when it starts affecting their reproductive and immune systems,” Balcomb said.

He said the dead orca, known as J32 or Rhapsody, was “not in great condition. The fat content seemed to be quite low and her blubber layer was not that thick.”

There are just 77 southern resident killer whales left.

The bodies of the orca and her fetus have been taken to Vancouver for further testing.

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.

Orca calf born to Puget Sound resident L pod

(Photo: Capt. James Maya / Maya’s Westside Whale Charters)

(Photo: Capt. James Maya / Maya’s Westside Whale Charters)

 

Susan Wyatt, KING 5 News, September 7, 2014

The Center for Whale Research is celebrating the birth of an orca calf in the Salish Sea, the first one since 2012.

The proud mother is 23-year-old L86, and this is her second calf. The newborn has been designated L120.

The birth is sorely needed in the Southern Resident Community population, Michael Harris, Executive Director of the PWWA, said in a press release. Their numbers had just dipped to 78, the lowest count in over a decade.

Meanwhile, the Northern Resident Community of British Columbia have steadily increased in numbers, and transient or marine mammal-eating orcas seem to be thriving in the Sound and Straits.

Yet the Southerns continue to struggle to recover, Harris said. Researchers attribute the problem to lack of prey, primarily their preferred diet of wild Chinook salmon.

A Pacific Whale Watch Association crew was the first to snap and post the baby photos.

“We wouldn’t have known about it, but heard from David Elifritt out on the water that L86 had a new calf, and then ran into them,” said Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Whale Charters on San Juan Island. “What a thrill to be there at the right time in the right place. Everyone on board was so excited. I’ve never seen a calf born, but it’s always a thrill to be there the day a new calf was discovered.”

“I remember someone saw a shot of L86 breaching back in June and word got out that she had a little ‘baby bump,'” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of the PWWA. “This is great news. But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon. Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents. This little whale has a tough road ahead. Every birth is exciting, but we’ll be especially thrilled and relieved to see L120 rolling back into the Sound and Straits next summer.”

Feds accept petition on captive orca Lolita

Source: The Herald, Associated Press

SEATTLE — The federal government has agreed to accept a petition that asked to have captive killer whale Lolita included in the endangered species listing for Puget Sound orcas.

Lolita was captured from that whale population in 1970 and is now at the Miami Seaquarium.

Her fellow orcas spend most of their time in Western Washington and British Columbia waters. Lolita is a member of the L pod, or family.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has listed these southern resident orcas as endangered since 2005. The wild population currently numbers 84.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is working with other animal rights groups to have Lolita freed from captivity, filed this petition.

The decision announced Wednesday will add Lolita to a current review of the status of Puget Sound orcas as an endangered species.