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 in the endangered pod that frequents Puget Sound near Seattle,Washington, 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 live in complex and cohesive family groups called pods. The baby orca was discovered by Center for Whale Research scientist Ken Balcomb 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 had three surviving calves, Balcomb said. The baby killer whale was estimated to be only days old and appeared healthy. It has been designated J-50.

Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with NOAA Fisheries, said he had noticed that satellite tracking showed the whale pod to have ducked into a narrow, protected passage between Shaw and Orcas islands in the San Juan archipelago, 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, 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 makes 78 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 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, with a limited supply of their favorite food, chinook salmon.

Killer whales are 7 to 8 feet in length at birth and weigh about 400 pounds. They are born after a 17-month gestation and nurse for at least a year, Balcomb wrote on the Center for Whale Research website.

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, though her next most recent calf (J-48) was born and died in December 2011 in Puget Sound, Balcomb wrote.

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.

That's why the death of the pregnant 19-year-old killer whale J-32 in early December in British Columbia waters was so distressing.

The fetus had died, and a resulting bacterial infection killed the mother, Fisheries and Oceans Canada 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 (17)
  • JacobM-5
    1/07/2015 - 06:20 p.m.

    This article is about the endangered killer whale species. These whales are endangered in both Canada and the U. S. They are dieing from things like birth and starvation. They die from birth because of a bacterial infection that kills them when there fetus dies. They die form starvation because there is a low amount of salmon there favorite food to eat. I thought this article was informing with some nature life going on that is unknown by some people.

  • KiraWvA-4
    1/07/2015 - 07:42 p.m.

    An orca whale calf, J-50, was recently born in Puget Sound near Seattle. This is good news for the pod, (after the death of a pregnant whale) and for endangered orcas everywhere. The mother is J-16, a 43-year-old whale and a good dam with three grown calves to her name. Orca calves can be eight feet long and weigh four hundred pounds at birth. I thought this article was pretty interesting because there are always so many endangered species, and I like hearing about at least one of them whose prospects are looking up.

  • justinb-Koc
    1/07/2015 - 09:32 p.m.

    I believe it the scientists use numbers because it is easier to keep track of who is who and to keep it simple instead of intricate. It is easier to know who is who because a certain number is the whales identity

  • r2000soccer
    1/09/2015 - 08:39 a.m.

    biologists use letters and numbers instead of names to identify the whales because Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network said. "It's good to see a positive sign." and alpha-numeric system help biologists know whos who" by their sizes and ages.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    1/09/2015 - 01:07 p.m.

    I never understood why animals really went extinct or even endangered because they reproduce. Then I realized that it's because they can't reproduce at the same rate that they're being killed. Even so, why aren't they reproducing at a constant rate? I am glad that the killer whale has reproduced again and it may or may not help them repopulate.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    1/09/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    Orca Whales are beautiful creatures, and it is good to see signs that the population is on the rise. Hopefully the human caretakers can continue their good work keeping the species alive.

  • jasonm-Koc
    1/10/2015 - 01:16 p.m.

    These whales have always been very interesting to me. I went to sea world in seventh grade and saw these animals and was very amazed. It is good that this baby orca survived and they will not go extinct yet.

  • jarredc-Koc
    1/11/2015 - 09:22 p.m.

    THere are many endangered species on this planet. While Humanity continues to boom and overpopulate, many species do not have this luxury. Many species are even killed off by humanity for food or hunting trophies. It is a sign that species are not giving up when a new born is brought about. There is still hope for many species as they continue to survive.

  • mattf-Koc
    1/12/2015 - 01:31 a.m.

    I have always thought killer whales to be amazing animals. So to see that things might be on the up for them is great news. I know they are an extremely endangered species, which makes a healthy calf all the more important. Hopefully their numbers continue to rise.

  • LoganH16
    1/12/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    This is very good news for the population of Killer Whales. More Whales for are kids and their kids to watch and enjoy.

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