By Lynda V. Mapes / The Seattle Times
Another new orca baby has been born to J pod, the Center for Whale Research confirmed Friday morning. It’s the second calf born this month for the endangered southern resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound.
“We confirm that there is a new calf in J pod and the mother is J41,” Ken Balcomb, the founding director of the center, wrote in a text message to The Seattle Times on Friday morning.
“We have to await the whales’ return to determine its health condition and hopefully determine its success. It is important to note that the observation was in Canada and we could not be there due to covid restrictions.”
Center observer Mark Malleson caught up with the whales near Sheringham, British Columbia, Balcomb wrote. The whales were very spread out, foraging, and could not be located before dark.
J35, the mother orca also known as Tahlequah, gave birth to a male calf on Sept. 4. Mother and baby were seen the evening of Sept. 22, near Point Roberts, Whatcom County. Tahlequah raised worldwide concern in 2018 when her calf died shortly after birth and she carried it for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles.
Her new calf has been seen rolling, spyhopping, and swimming alongside his mother as she forages for food, according to the center.
The J, K and L pods include a total of eight older females past reproductive age, Ford noted. The oldest southern resident orca by far is L25, estimated to have been born in 1928.
Southern resident orcas younger than 10 skew male, by 7:4. The older animals, according to Ford, skew female largely because the females simply live longer.
The southern resident population faces three main threats: vessel noise and disturbance; pollution; and lack of readily available, quality food, especially the orcas’ preferred diet of chinook salmon.
The orcas need to eat about 4% of their body weight every day in salmon to be healthy, Balcomb said. For the new baby, that means by the time he is a sexually mature, 10,000-pound adult, he will need about 400 pounds of salmon a day.
Chinook overall have declined throughout the range of the southern resident orcas, and noise makes the fish harder to catch, because the orcas use sound to hunt.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public comment through Oct. 23 and holding virtual public hearings Oct. 7 and 8 on the state’s first licensing requirements on whale watching in Washington waters.
The rules are intended to protect the southern residents with a number of strategies, including limiting the number of boats present with the whales at any one time; the duration the tour boats may be present; and requiring licenses for commercial tour operators.