Another orca baby has been sighted among the killer whale pods of the Pacific Northwest. That raises to four the known number of offspring born to this endangered group of whales since December.
Naturalist Jeanne Hyde was out with a whale watching cruise on Monday when she spotted the new baby orca and snapped the first photos of it. Hyde was uncertain whether the little orca was J50, born earlier in the season, or a newborn, until she saw both their dorsal fins break the waves at once.
“It was so exciting, because this calf has the heavy-duty, deep fetal folds,” Hyde said. “I’d never seen one so fresh. That’s an indicator that it was born just within a couple days.”
Babies have been scarce among these killer whales for the past few years, said Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 operators in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada.
“It’s sometimes hard for people outside the Pacific Northwest to understand the value of our resident orcas to this place. They are—we call them our totem species,” Harris said. “We went almost three years without a successful birth in the population and the numbers dropped to 77. In terms of sustaining a population that’s been here for 12,000 years, since the receding of the ice sheets, that’s scary.”