The endangered Southern Community continues to rebuild its ranks.
The Center for Whale Research announced this weekend that a new calf has been spotted, the seventh born into the population since December 30th, 2014, and the third born into L-Pod this year. The baby, dubbed L123 by the Center, was born to L103, the 12-year-old’s first known calf. The calf was first spotted on November 10th, 2015 off Seattle, WA and then again on November 22nd near the Jordan River in B.C.
The announcement comes almost exactly a year to the day after the tragic loss of J32, or “Rhapsody,” the beloved member of the Southerns who died from an infection while trying to give birth to a full-term fetus.
“Losing J32 was like losing two on one day from this population,” remembers Michael Harris, Executive Director of Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA). “That also dropped their numbers to 77, down one from when we got them listed under the Endangered Species Act 10 years ago. And that brought us all down. Many of the most optimistic among us started to really wonder if we could save this population. Some gave up — but not us. And then true enough, they surprise us with seven beautiful, healthy calves within a year. It goes to show that you never can give up on these orcas. They’ve been around for about 10,000 years, and if we make sure we have salmon out there, they’ll be around for thousands more.”
Scientists believe that the baby boom this year is directly correlated to a healthy Chinook salmon run last year. But coming off a regional drought and other problems, the next few years are expected to be challenging for the population.
“We are very excited about the SRKW baby boom, but it is now more important than ever to remember that the more whales we have the more salmon they will need,” said Dr. Deborah Giles, Director of Research for the Center for Whale Research. “With all these new mouths to feed it is crucial to focus on Chinook salmon habitat restoration. Removal of the lower Snake River Dams is just one of the many ways to address the issue.”
(Photo by Mark Malleson under NMFS Permit #15569 and/or DFO license #2013-04 SARA-272 “3”.)