Researchers at the Center for Whale Research in Washington State recently announced that a new baby orca was born in a killer whale pod swimming off the coast of the state. Marine scientists were thrilled at the news since no baby killer whale was born in that pod since 2012.
Although, orcas, or killer whales, are a widespread species across the globe, in the United States and Canada they are listed on the endangered species list.
The newborn orca was first spotted on December 30 by Ken Balcomb, volunteer Executive Director at the Center for Whale Research, swimming along with the above mentioned killer whale pod. The pod, also known as J-Pod, usually dwells in the Puget Sound, a sound linked to the Pacific Ocean.
The baby killer whale is more than 9 days old now and represents a new hope for the pod after losing a pregnant female orca (J-32) earlier last month. J-32 was 19-year-old when she died somewhere in the Strait of Georgia. Scientists at the center managed to drag her ashore and perform a necropsy.
The necropsy revealed that J-32 died of a bacterial infection after its fetus had died within its womb and started decomposing.
“The loss of J-32 was a disturbing setback. We lost a lot of reproductive potential. But the new baby whale, named J-50, is a good sign,”
said Brad Hanson, a wildlife researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Mr. Balcomb said that his team wasn’t able to identify the newborn orca’s mother. They suspect two females from the pod may be its mother – J-36, a young female or J-16, an older female orca that already had had three orca calves. In December 2011, the 43-year-old J-16 gave birth to a forth baby orca which died one month later.
Marine biologists say that the mortality rate among baby orcas is very high so the death of J-16’s calf wasn’t a surprise to anyone. NOAA studies show that about 35 to 45 percent of baby killer whales do not survive their first year.
If J-50 makes it until next year, it would be the first orca to be born within the Puget Sound population in more than two and a half years. J-50 is the 78th orca in the already dwindling killer whale population off the Washington State’s and Canada’s coast.
Scientists say that in that region killer whales almost became extinct after the massive hunting for entertainment purposes between the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that period, about 40 killer whales were put into captive display.
In the 1990s, the population grew to about 100 individuals. In the early 2000s, it lost 20 percent, while in 2005, orcas were listed as endangered species in the U.S.
Researchers blame the scarce population of Chinook salmon for the orcas’ decline. Chinook salmon, orcas’ main food source, is also on the endangered species list now.
Image Source: Times Colonist