A newborn orca calf known as L124 was spotted “bouncing around” with its family group in the Salish Sea last week, according to whale researchers. The calf appeared to be about three weeks old.
The development is highly encouraging for supporters of the whales frequenting the Puget Sound region, which have not seen a successful birth in three years.
A healthy calf is good news but its spurred cautious optimisim among whale researchers. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research warned that the mortality rate among southern residents is high – about 50 percent, he told the Seattle Times. The community’s last newborn, a calf born to Tahlequah, or J-35, lived only a half-hour in July.
The sighting of the newborn calf was confirmed at 9:50 a.m. Friday morning, according to a report from the Center for Whale Research. The whale, whose sex has not been identified, was seen moving speedily between other members of its family group in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula.
“The new calf kept up well with L25, L41, L77 and L119 as they sped northwest,” an encounter summary states.
Observers said members of L-pod were “especially playful” that morning, performing “tail slaps, pec slaps, cartwheels, breachers and spy hops.”
In recent months, lawmakers have announced plans to try to protect the animals, whose numbers have been dwindling due to a lack of food supply, noise pollution, environmental degradation, shoreside development and other factors.
Governor Jay Inslee proposed a $1.1 billion spending plan over the next three years, and formed a Southern Resident Orca task force in March to develop policy solutions.
With three deaths last year, the orcas that frequent the Puget Sound region remain critically endangered, numbering just 74 animals.
Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. Follow him on Twitter @kitsapgabe.