Newborn orca joins resident pod
Wednesday, February 24 2010 @ 03:51 PM EST
Contributed by: jkr
Ecstatic whale watchers are welcoming another new baby to the endangered southern resident killer whale pods.
The newcomer was first spotted swimming off the north end of Cordova Bay on Sunday, and the following day the birth was confirmed with photographs taken by observers from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash.
"It was doing fine. It was brand new," said Ken Balcomb, the centre's executive director.
The baby is designated L-114 and its mother is a 22-year-old whale known as L-77 or Matia. It is the first known calf for L-77, Balcomb said. "She certainly took her time."
The birth is the seventh in just over a year for J, K and L pods, which are still struggling for survival after decades of hunting and capture that lasted until the mid-1970s.
Seven surviving babies is a record for the last couple of decades, but there were years during the 1980s when there were nine births, Balcomb said.
The total population of the three pods is now 89, which still falls far short of the recent high of 97 southern residents in 1996. Historically, there were about 120 southern residents.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a group that runs a whale-sighting network, said so far there is no sign any of the whales have died during the winter.
"None of the really old or really young are missing so far, and their body conformation looks good," he said.
However, it is usually early summer before an accurate count can be completed, and about 50 per cent of killer whale calves die during the first year.
One of the big question marks, as births are usually regulated by the amount of available food, is where the orcas are finding their favourite chinook salmon.
"They are finding fish somewhere, but I don't know where," Garrett said.