Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Six New Baby Orcas

The Salish Sea (the new name for Puget Sound and the surrounding waters) is the home to the Southern Resident killer whale population. Recently listed as endangered, they finally have some good news to share - six new baby orcas born in the last year including one just spotted last week! That's not a baby above, that's one of the orcas from L pod - more about her below...

Three orcas also went missing (presumed dead) in the last year which takes their total to only 88 orcas, but it's great to see their numbers rising rather than plummeting as they have in years past. Although there are many potential causes for their decline (boat noise, toxicity, decimation through capture), the availability of salmon is considered the current leading issue for the survival of the orcas. For those of you who haven't known me a few years, these orcas are very near and dear to my heart. The Southern Resident population should technically be 89 if you include Lolita, the one surviving orca from the nearly fifty orcas captured in the 1960s and 1970s. For more info on her, take a look at my Seattle Times articles on Lolita and the history of orca captures. That's her at the top of this post.

Here's a picture from a whale watching trip a few years ago of the one baby orca I've seen in the wild - J42. Have you ever tried taking a picture of a moving animal with a time-delay on your digital camera? Much harder than it looks...

The new baby J47 belongs to J35, a very young mother at the age of 12. Orca life spans and reproductive ages track very similarly to humans so becoming a mother at age 12 is a concern. The good news for these family-centered orcas is that J47 also has a grandmother, aunties, and a few other baby cousins to guide her. Fifty percent of orca babies die before reaching the age of one so J47 will need all the help he or she can get. In addition to the main issue of food supply, baby orcas also test very high in toxicity. All orcas, since they're at the top of the food chain, have toxicity issues, but the babies bear the brunt of it. When they're mothers nurse them, the maternal fat stores pass the toxicity to the babies.

Interested in learning more about orcas? The Southern Resident orcas are the most studied whales in the world and there are some great resources: Center for Whale Research, Killer Whale Tales (this group offers programs for schools), and Orca Network.

Good luck to the six new babies!


  1. always greatful for mentioning Lolita. I have a website that tells you lots of things you can do to help her get out of the Seaquarium.

  2. Lolita is lucky to have people like you dedicated to her cause. I checked out your website - an accurate depiction of her deplorable conditions as I saw them a few years ago.