A Seventh Baby Is Born to the World’s Most Endangered Killer Whales

Watchers photographed the calf as it swam with its mother on Friday.

Baby Southern Resident killer whale L123 poked its head above the water on Dec. 4. (Photo: Mark Malleson/Courtesy Center for Whale Research)

Dec 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The seventh newborn in 12 months among the world’s most endangered killer whales has been confirmed.

On Friday, watchers from the Friday Harbor, Washington–based Center for Whale Research snapped photos of the calf as it swam with its mother.

The images allowed them to confirm that the youngster, first sighted in early November, is the latest addition to the Southern Resident killer whales. Three pods of the killer whales live year-round off the southern Pacific Northwest coast.

The calf has been tagged L123. According to the center, it is the first known offspring of its 12-year-old mother, L103. The sex of the newborn was not confirmed.

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Baby orca L123 swimming with its mother, L103. (Photo: Mark Malleson/Courtesy Center for Whale Research)

It has been an upbeat year for the Southern Residents, thanks to the string of new births, including J51 in February, J52 in March, and L122 in September.

The whales’ numbers dropped to around 77 individuals by the end of the 2013–14 breeding season, a year in which no newborns survived.

The overall Southern Resident population has diminished by about 20 percent since the 1990s. While pollution and habitat disruption have played a part, the most serious problem facing the whales is that their preferred prey, the Chinook salmon, is also an endangered species.

This situation has led to cautious optimism among the people who study and advocate for these whales. “While a new calf born to this struggling population is certainly cause to celebrate,” the Center for Whale Research said in a statement, “we continue to emphasize the need to focus on wild Chinook salmon restoration efforts. Especially the removal of obsolete dams that block wild salmon from their natal spawning habitat, such as those on the lower Snake River.”