New orca calf inspires hope that Puget Sound whales could be recovering

Feb 17, 2021, 4:44 PM
New orca calf, orcas, Southern Residents...
Orca calf L125 swimming with its mother, Surprise. (Center for Whale Research)
(Center for Whale Research)

Puget Sound orca L-86 is named Surprise, and she certainly brought a surprise to the coast of San Juan Island on Wednesday when she appeared with a brand new calf.

With Puget Sound orcas pregnant, vessels asked to give space

Although Surprise had lost three of her four children previously, local experts are encouraged by the fact that she was able to carry this baby — dubbed L125 — to term. Scientists believe L125 is healthy at roughly one to one-and-a-half months old, with the Center for Whale Research’s Dave Ellifrit saying that it “appears to be a perfectly normal little calf.”

The L-pod has been spending more of its time on the outer coast of Vancouver Island, which experts hope means they’ve been finding more to eat out there. Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Pacific Whale Watch Association says whether or not this baby survives will be very indicative of how true that theory might be.

“If this one survives, I would say that it does indicate that they’re finding food elsewhere, and if it doesn’t survive then this continues to show the challenges that they’re still facing,” he told KIRO Radio, noting that the appearance of this new calf is inspiring “cautious optimism at the moment.”

Washington ferries use new app to help struggling orca population

L125 represents the 75th Southern Resident Orca, whose population has severely dwindled in recent years. That’s been blamed by experts on a reduction in their primary food source, Chinook salmon, as well as a variety of other environmental factors.

Last summer, two babies were born to J-pod. Those calves are doing well, as is the rest of J-pod.

Balcomb-Bartok says we can all do our part to help the orcas by voting for people who work toward salmon recovery efforts, such as dam removal.

MyNorthwest staff contributed to this report

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New orca calf inspires hope that Puget Sound whales could be recovering