Newborn orca good sign for endangered killer whales A new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. The newborn is being called J-50. With the new addition, there are now 78 of the endangered whales in the waters of British Columbia and Washington state (AP photos)
Newborn orca good sign for endangered killer whales
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A newborn orca whale has been spotted. It is living in the endangered pod that frequents Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington. The calf is an encouraging sign following the death of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.

"That was a pretty hard hit," Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network said. "It's good to see a positive sign."

Orcas are also known as killer whales. Their complex, cohesive family groups are called pods. The baby was discovered by Center for Whale Research scientist Ken Balcomb and another scientist. They were monitoring members of J-pod off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

The presumed mother is J-16. She is 43 years old. She has had three surviving calves, Balcomb said. The new baby killer whale appeared healthy. It has been designated J-50.

Brad Hanson is a wildlife biologist with NOAA Fisheries. He said he had noticed that satellite tracking showed the whale pod to have ducked into a narrow, protected passage. It's between Shaw and Orcas islands. It's an area where he'd never seen them travel before.

"I was sort of scratching my head about why they'd go into that area," he said. "The whales tend to use particular channels. It was a very unusual travel route. They may have been seeking an area of sheltered water for the birth."

The birth makes 78 orcas in the southern resident killer whale population. Those whales spend time in the inland waters of Washington state and Canada. They are an endangered species in Canada and in the U.S.

Now, everyone is hoping J-50 survives. An estimated 35 percent to 45 percent of orcas die in their first year, Garrett said. The Puget Sound population is in danger. There is a limited supply of chinook salmon. That is their favorite food.

Killer whales are 7 to 8 feet in length at birth. They weigh about 400 pounds. It takes until their early teens for females to mature and late teens for males to mature. It is good news that J-16, the mother, is a proven producer of calves. Unfortunately, her next most recent calf (J-48) was born and died in December 2011 in Puget Sound, Balcomb wrote on a website.

It has been 2 1/2 years since the last successful birth in the population. If orca calves don't survive, the iconic whales face certain extinction, he said.

Critical thinking challenge: Why do biologists use letters and numbers instead of names to identify the whales? How does this alpha-numeric system help biologists know whos who?"

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COMMENTS (5)
  • Ayden-Mag
    1/09/2015 - 10:19 a.m.

    Oh my gosh that is so sad. It's probably the most saddest article I've ever read. I was almost in tears :( so sad.

  • danniemoji
    1/15/2015 - 05:51 p.m.

    I'm very glad to see the orca whale population growing instead of shrinking. I have known that they were endangered but I didn't know it was as serious as this. There are only 78 orcas resident killer whale population left, including the newborn, J-50. In the article, it says that it has been 2 and a half years since the last successful birth in the population, and that makes me sad. I really hope we, and the orcas, can come back from this and keep growing.

  • hailie1237
    1/16/2015 - 01:13 a.m.

    This is a great sign, for the killer whales are on the endangered species list. I would like I see there population make a come back. it's crazy that a baby can be 7-8 feet long at birth. I'm only 4'11 and I'm almost done growing. It's a good idea to use numbers and letters in the process of tracking animals because it's how's there from the sake group. This is also great because it has been 1 and a half years between the births. If te whales don't have more offspring they will face certain extinction.

  • JeVon-Mag
    1/26/2015 - 09:31 a.m.

    i think scientist use numbers instead of names because it is easier than having to memorize all of there names.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    6/01/2015 - 08:40 p.m.

    It is good to know that killer whales are not endanger anymore, but it is not good for baby whales. Because killer hales eat baby whale. I saw it in National Geographic. Still it is good for killer whales they should not eat baby whales.

    Critical thinking challenge: Why do biologists use letters and numbers instead of names to identify the whales? How does this alpha-numeric system help biologists know whos who?"
    Answer: I think biologists do that because you can not name a whale because it will be confusing if you have to know all the whales name.

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