(Photo courtesy Center for Whale Research: Mom J16 and newborn J50)
After heartbreaking losses this year in Puget Sound’s orca pods, good news – a baby! Here’s the news release shared by Orca Network:
This afternoon Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed seeing and photographing 42-year old J16 (Slick) with her newborn baby – now known as J50!
During an encounter off the south shores of North Pender Island in Canadian waters, Ken discovered J16 with her newborn calf, only a day or two old, snuggled in her slipstream and looking healthy and energetic.
No other female has given birth at over 42 years of age in the four decades of demographic field studies of the Southern Resident orcas. J16 was not expected to be carrying a calf due to her advanced age.
Researchers probably won’t know the calf’s gender for many months, until they are able to see and photograph the calf’s ventral markings.
The Southern Resident community was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, after dropping in population to only 78 members, but had recently lost a pregnant female, J32 Rhapsody, bring their numbers down to only 77 members. This birth brings the So. Residents up to 78.
Most of J pod was seen on December 24 west of Orcas Island, but J16, known as Slick, and her family were not among them. Then on December 26th, the Orca Network Sightings Network received a photograph of J16’s oldest offspring, 23-year old J26 (Mike), and another orca off the north end of Lopez Island, indicating that J16 was probably nearby, because maternal families remain in close proximity their entire lives.
9:09 PM UPDATE: We hope to add a photo when Orca Network releases one; in the meantime, you can see several on the ON Facebook page. Also, thanks to West Seattle wildlife watcher/photographer/writer Trileigh Tucker for tipping us to the happy news even before we got the news release.
9:28 PM UPDATE: Added a Center for Whale Research photo of mother and calf, republished with permission. You can see half a dozen others on the center’s website.