(Photo by Carrie Sapp)
After the Southern Resident Killer Whales came through last Friday, the experts noticed someone missing in other regional sightings – baby L120, first calf born to the local orcas in two years. No one wanted to announce her death until word came from orca experts – and now it has, shared in a news release via Orca Network:
The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that baby L120, only about seven weeks old and the third known offspring of a 23-year old Southern Resident orca known as L86, was not with his or her mother when she and other members of L pod were photographed recently in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said, “L86 was seen and photographed on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, all without L120.”
L120 was the first newborn Southern Resident offspring seen since August 2012. In February of that year the the body of L86’s second offspring, 3-year old female L112, washed up at Long Beach Wash. with indications of death by severe acoustic trauma.
Research conducted in recent years has shown that Southern Resident orcas depend almost entirely on chinook salmon for sustenance, with a diet of chum salmon during fall months when chinook are especially scarce.
This orca clan has suffered episodic food deficiency for many decades, as chinook salmon runs were depleted by habitat destruction, excessive harvest and dams from Alaska to California. They were also routinely shot at for decades and over 50 were captured or killed for theme parks during the 1960s and 70s, followed by wanton disposal of persistent toxins into Puget Sound that continue to impair fetal development and immune responses, especially when the whales can’t find sufficient food.
“We haven’t treated these magnificent orcas well at all. As a society we are not successfully restoring this orca community despite the many warnings and legal declarations. Our challenge is clear: bountiful salmon runs must be restored and protected or we won’t see Resident orcas in the Salish Sea in coming years.” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
The loss of her second baby must be especially traumatic for L86, but knowing this young orca will never grow up and reproduce is painful for all who care about this precariously dwindling extended family. Now down to only 78 members, the Southern Resident community is at or below their numbers in 2001 when alarms rang with such intensity that they were eventually listed as endangered under the ESA in 2005.