Update / L120 / September 13, 2014

L120 Update from Heather MacIntyre: Photos taken this evening (9/13/14) off San Juan Island from the M/V Legacy with Legacy Charters, just west of False Bay.10655435_589639011144517_6041618173989077756_o

“Two week old L120 seems to be doing very well! Tonight we were the only boat with her for a little while, we got to watch as she nursed and traveled with L86 Surprise (her mother), and probable Auntie L27 Ophelia.10551569_589638881144530_1055846902648864080_o

There was lot’s of rolling around towards the surface behind L86, at which point L27 would promptly position herself halfway behind the two, probably to make sure everything was occurring properly! We saw small splashes at the waters surface, then they continued traveling.10661830_589638777811207_2430105914271051403_o

The pink/orange coloration comes from an extremely thin blubber layer that the calf is born with. Blood vessels are close to the epidermis and will make the calf appear orange/pink. As soon as the blubber layer thickens (from nursing on her mothers milk), the patches will turn white.”10667662_589672991141119_1448053800_o

Photo Credit: Heather MacIntyre, 2014 / Legacy Charters

 

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Newborn Calf Spotted Among Endangered Orcas For The First Time In Years

 

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.41.09 PM

 

 

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.41.20 PM

 

 

Researchers tracking endangered killer whales in the North Pacific made an encouraging discovery over the weekend after an infant calf was seen swimming with the pod — representing the first birth among the threatened population in nearly two years.

A team from the Center for Whale Research (CWR) spotted the newborn near San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington state, among a group of orcas known as L pod. The new arrival, designated L120, is the second calf born to a 23-year-old orca known as L86.

CWR biologist Dave Ellifrit was able to capture several images of the adorable young family.

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.41.44 PM

L pod is part of a community of orcas near the Puget Sound known as Southern resident killer whales (SRKW), the only population to be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Just last month, the CWR issued a report noting that the population had fallen to just 78 orcas, the lowest seen since 1985.

This recent birth pushed their number back to 79, reviving hope that the group may be able to stem the population decline. Little is known about birth rates among orcas, but it is believed that mature females can produce offspring every five years.

Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, says that while the sight of a new calf among the endangered pod is a welcome one, it’s too soon to say that SRKW are making a comeback.

“This is great news. But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon. Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents,” Harris said in a press release.

“This little whale has a tough road ahead. Every birth is exciting, but we’ll be especially thrilled and relieved to see L120 rolling back into the [Puget] Sound and Straits next summer.”

 

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Orca calf born to Puget Sound resident pod

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.36.50 PM

 

 

Susan Wyatt, KING-TV, Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. / 6:27 p.m. EDT September 7, 2014

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.39.08 PMSEATTLE — The Center for Whale Research is celebrating the birth of an orca calf in the Salish Sea, the first one since 2012.

The proud mother is 23-year-old L86, and this is her second calf. The newborn has been designated L120.

The birth is sorely needed in the Southern Resident Community population, Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said in a press release. Their numbers had just dipped to 78, the lowest count in more than a decade.

Meanwhile, the Northern Resident Community of British Columbia have steadily increased in numbers, and transient or marine mammal-eating orcas seem to be thriving in the Sound and Straits.

Yet the Southerns continue to struggle to recover, Harris said. Researchers attribute the problem to lack of prey, primarily their preferred diet of wild Chinook salmon.

A Pacific Whale Watch Association crew was the first to snap and post the baby photos.

“We wouldn’t have known about it, but heard from David Elifritt out on the water that L86 had a new calf, and then ran into them,” said Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Whale Charters on San Juan Island. “What a thrill to be there at the right time in the right place. Everyone on board was so excited. I’ve never seen a calf born, but it’s always a thrill to be there the day a new calf was discovered.”

“I remember someone saw a shot of L86 breaching back in June and word got out that she had a little ‘baby bump,'” Harris said. “This is great news. But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon. Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents. This little whale has a tough road ahead. Every birth is exciting, but we’ll be especially thrilled and relieved to see L120 rolling back into the Sound and Straits next summer.”

 

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Newborn killer whale spotted in Washington waters

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.31.03 PM
 
 
 
 
By PHUONG LE, Associated Press
Updated 5:10 pm, Monday, September 8, 2014
 
Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.31.27 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — Whale researchers are celebrating the newest member of a population of endangered killer whales that frequent Puget Sound in Washington state.

The baby orca spotted over the weekend in waters off San Juan is the population’s first calf born since 2012. A researcher saw it swimming between two adult females, most likely the orca’s mom and aunt, said Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research, which keeps a census of the whales.

The orca is probably less than a week old, he said. Researchers don’t know yet whether it’s a boy or a girl.

The baby is a member of the L pod, one of three extended families of whales that are closely tracked and photographed by researchers.

Its birth is reason to celebrate, Balcomb said. But he cautioned that orcas are still struggling to recover because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

The newborn orca brings the number of killer whales in the Puget Sound population to 79, Balcomb said. Two whales were confirmed missing and presumed dead this year.

The unique population, known as southern resident killer whales, numbered more than 140 animals decades ago but declined to a low of 71 in the 1970s when dozens of the mammals were captured live to be displayed at marine parks and aquariums across the country.

Orcas were listed as endangered in 2005, after local and regional efforts began in the 2000s to conserve them.

“The resident orcas that eat salmon are declining because the salmon population is also endangered,” Balcomb said Monday. “What we have to do is get really serious about wild salmon restoration and recovery, which is the food supply for these guys.”

He said billions of dollars have spent on salmon recovery, but orcas are still in decline. “What’s the issue here? Overharvests? Dams? Military exercises? What? We have to figure it out,” he added.

The striking black and white whales have come to symbolize the Pacific Northwest. Individual whales are identified by slight variations in the shape of their dorsal fins and distinctive whitish-gray patch of pigment behind the dorsal fin, called a saddle patch.

The whales are given designations based on whether they belong to J, K or L pod. The newest member is L-120.

Dave Ellifrit, a researcher with the center, came across the newborn Saturday while doing routine photo identification of whales, Balcomb said.

Killer whales can be found in many oceans, but the distinct Puget Sound population can be found most summer months and fall in Washington state waters.

They primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. They travel in three families, or the J, K and L pods. Whales from the same pod tend to spend most of their time together, often grouping around older females.

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Updated photos: Eyewitness describes birth of orca in Puget Sound waters

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.19.39 PM

 

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 10.23.19 PM

This is a cropped version of the baby with the Southern Resident Killer Whales (Photo by Corey Vink, from Orca Spirit Adventures, Victoria)
 

The birth of an orca among the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound and surrounding waters is certainly cause for celebration, especially since the population of these orcas has fallen to a level not seen for more than a decade.

But the birth is also greeted with caution, because orca infant mortality is high.

“This is great news,” said Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, in a news release.

“But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon. Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents. This little whale has a tough road ahead. Every birth is exciting, but we’ll be especially thrilled and relieved to see L120 rolling back into the Sound and Straits next summer.”

If the baby does return and there are no other deaths among resident whales, that would keep their numbers at 79, the lowest count in many years. The association’s news release added:

The birth is sorely needed in the Southern Resident population. … Meanwhile, the Northern Resident Community of British Columbia have steadily increased in numbers, and transient or marine mammal-eating orcas seem to be thriving in the Sound and Straits. Yet the Southerns continue to struggle to recover. Researchers attribute the problem to lack of prey, primarily their preferred diet of wild Chinook salmon. While the population is hardly out of the woods, any new baby is worth celebrating.

The resident population is precarious and protected because of the decline of salmon and also the heavy ship traffic in the straits and sound. The later point was driven home in a news release today by the Orca Relief Citizen’s Alliance, which is calling a Whale Protection Zone off the west side of San Juan Island, where the Orca can rest and feed.

The birth story

Here’s an eyewitness account of the birth by Brian Goodremont, U.S. President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (thanks to Michael Harris, Executive Director of the association for sharing the email. Some minor editing throughout):

…  I’m pretty sure I witnessed the birth not knowing what I was seeing.

There was some very unusual behavior from that “resting” group of whales. They appeared to be resting and directional slowly east.

In a matter of 5 minutes however they stayed in the resting line-up but did three full circles within a 200 yard radius, eventually continuing south. During the direction changes there were occasional spy-hops (when the whale pokes its head above the water).

When the direction was again Southeast towards Salmon, the spy-hops became more prominent and increased in height. A couple of the spy-hops you could see pectoral flippers jiggling, almost like the whale spy-hopping was trying to stay in that position.

Shortly after about 5 spy-hops, I saw a small cetacean being pushed to the surface on the rostrum of one of the adult females. I was looking into the sun with guests on my bow, so I wasn’t sure of what it was that I saw.

And there you have it the birth of an Orca!

“It was a thrill to see it! Our passengers were so excited. We didn’t discover it, but happened to have the camera pointed in the right spot at the right time,” said Capt. James Maya of Maya’s Westside Whale Charters on having spotted the baby orca (you can find his photos in the gallery above).

The Center for Whale Research confirmed the birth Saturday in their Facebook post:

Yeah! Great news! We finally have new calf in L pod. L86 was seen today by CWR staff with a brand new calf who will be designated L120. This is the first new calf in the SRKW population since 2012.

“This is great news. But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon,” Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association said in a press release. “Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents.”

 The decline of resident orcas

While there have been record sightings of transient killer whales, the local resident whales have been in decline.

The Associated Press reported last weekend:

With two new deaths this year and no new calves since 2012, the population of endangered killer whales in the Puget Sound continues to decline.

The number of whales in J, K and L pods has dropped to 78, a level not seen since 1985, According to a census by the Center for Whale Research. Adding to the concerns, the whales appear to be “splintering” from their pods, which are their basic social groups.

Since 1976, Ken Balcomb of the research center has been observing the Puget Sound orcas, or Southern Residents as they’re known among scientists. Balcomb compiles an annual census of the population for submission to the federal government.

Historically, all three pods of orcas have come together in the San Juan Islands during summer months, often feeding and socializing in large groups, Balcomb noted. But for the past few years, the pods have divided themselves into small groups, sometimes staying together but often staying apart.

“What we’re seeing with this weird association pattern is two or three members of one pod with two or three from another pod,” Balcomb said. “It’s a fragmentation of the formal social structure, and you can see that fragmentation going further. They are often staying miles and miles apart and not interacting.

“If we were trying to name the pods now, we couldn’t do it,” he added. “They aren’t associating in those patterns anymore.”

So, the new birth is a relief but the struggle to keep the resident whales intact and viable continues.

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

KOMO NEWS: Puget Sound orca pod welcomes newborn calf

Published: Sep 7, 2014 at 1:05 PM PDT

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 6.51.31 PMSAN JUAN ISLANDS, Wash. – A new baby orca calf has been born in the Salish Sea, the Center for Whale Research said Saturday.

It’s the first birth for the endangered Southern Resident Community of orcas, L pod, of the Salish Sea since 2012, the Center said.

“This is great news. But every time a baby’s born, we’re careful not to pass out the cigars too soon,” Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association said in a press release. “Infant mortality is really high among wild orcas, especially these Southern Residents.”

The newborn orca has been designated L120, and is the second birth for 23-year-old orca mom L86.

The numbers for the Southern Resident population have dropped to 78, the lowest count in a decade, the Center said. Researchers attribute their slow recovery to lack of prey, considering their preferred diet of wild Chinook salmon.

“This little whale has a tough road ahead,” Harris said. “Every birth is exciting, but we’ll be especially thrilled and relieved to see L120 rolling back into the Sound and Straits next summer.”

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Center for Whale Research – New photos of L120

First pix of new SRKW calf L120 with aunt L27 and mom L86 off Eagle Point yesterday (September 6, 2014) – photos taken by Dave Ellifrit, CWR.

 

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 10.50.28 AM Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 10.50.15 AM

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment