New Baby Orca Spotted, Sparking Hope For Endangered Killer Whale Population

Researchers were surprised to discover this week that an endangered population of orcas off the coast of British Columbia has a new addition, as they were able to document a recently born baby killer whale.

The young whale has been designated L122, and it was spotted swimming alongside its mother (L91) off the coast of Sooke, British Columbia, Grind TV reports. Researchers with NOAA Fisheries West Coast announced the new addition to the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population with a Facebook post, pointing out that the baby whale is the fifth new orca born in the region since December of last year.

Researchers discovered the baby orca accidentally on Monday, as they used a hexacopter to measure other members of the Southern Resident killer whale population. The baby orca is the first for its 20-year-old mother, who belongs to L pod. Two other groups of killer whales (J and K pods) also reside in the Pacific Northwest, spending much of the summer and fall months around Washington’s San Juan Islands and Puget Sound.

The region’s killer whale population is extremely threatened, consisting of just over 80 animals, and their plight has become even more dire over the last decade. As the Center for Whale Research points out, none of the baby orcas born into the three pods in 2013 or 2014 survived, further complicating efforts to safeguard the whales. This year has resulted in a “baby boom” of sorts for the orcas, though the record year is still 1977, in which nine new killer whales were born.

Though measurements for the new baby orca have yet to be made available, the center noted that the researchers who discovered the calf observed it in the Haro Strait, chasing fish with several other L pod whales. Members of J and K pods also turned up later in the evening, causing the group of whales to stretch from the Haro Strait to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Researchers hope that the impressive number of baby orcas born this year will mark the start of a reversal in the whales’ population, which has been trending negatively in recent years.

[Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via Grind TV]