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Newborn orca a good sign for endangered killer whales in Puget Sound

Jan 04. 15

A newborn orca in the endangered pod that frequents Puget Sound is an encouraging sign following the death earlier this month of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.

“That was a pretty hard hit,” said Howard Garrett of the Orca Network on Whidbey Island on Wednesday. “It’s good to see a positive sign.”

The baby orca was discovered on Tuesday by Ken Balcomb, a scientist at the Centre for Whale Research, and another scientist monitoring members of J-pod off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

The presumed mother is J-16, a 43-year-old that has three surviving calves, according to Mr Balcomb. The baby killer whale was estimated to be a day or two old and appeared healthy. It has been designated J-50.

Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with NOAA Fisheries, said that shortly before the estimated birth, satellite tracking showed the whale pod had ducked into a narrow, protected passage between Shaw and Orcas islands in the San Juan archipelago – an area where he had never seen them travel before.

“I was sort of scratching my head about why they would go into that area,” he said on Wednesday.

“The whales tend to use particular channels, and it was a very unusual travel route. This is pure speculation, but they may have been seeking an area of sheltered water for the birth.”

The birth brings to 78 the number of orcas in the southern resident killer whale population that spends time in the inland waters of Washington state and Canada. They are an endangered species in Canada and the United States.

Now, everyone is hoping that J-50 survives. An estimated 35 to 45 per cent of killer whales die in their first year, according to Mr Garrett.

The Puget Sound population is in danger, with a limited supply of their favorite food, chinook salmon.

Killer whales are 2.13 to 2.43 metres in length at birth and weigh about 180 kilograms.

They are born after a 17-month gestation and nurse for at least a year, according to the Centre for Whale Research.

Associated Press

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