Last week, in the midst of the largest gathering of marine mammal scientists in the world (more on that later!), we learned that the Center for Whale Research had confirmed the seventh new calf this year in the critically endangered Southern Resident orca community. New baby J54 was spotted with 22-year-old mother Polaris (J28) – the totals for 2015 are now four new babies for J pod and three for L pod. Starting with Scarlet (J50), born in December 2014 and the first calf to survive since 2012, this small community has seen a baby boom not observed since 1977, when nine new calves were born (of those nine, five are still alive today).
Scarlet will reach the critical one-year mark at the end of the month; the first year of life is hard for new orca calves, with a mortality rate as high as 50%. We will keep our fingers crossed for all the new calves, though researchers are worried about what will happen in the next few years. Birth and death rates in the Southern Resident population are closely correlated to the coastwide abundance of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon, and while these new calves are likely a result of increased salmon runs (for some areas) in the past couple of years, the ongoing drought in the western US and the threatening massive El Niño this year puts the future of many salmon runs in jeopardy.
More babies are certainly needed in the Southern Resident community to help this fragile population recover, but they also mean more mouths to feed on a dwindling food supply, among other threats. WDC is working to restore rivers and salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest to help the Southern Resident orcas survive and thrive. Help us in our work by reading more here and by adopting an orca today!
And in the meantime, enjoy this video from the Center for Whale Research of new baby J54!