Second orca calf born to endangered J-Pod

2nd orca calf born to J-Pod

Another baby orca has emerged in J-Pod, giving the group of whales a second new member over the past month.

Southern resident killer whales have been facing challenges in recent years over lack of food, which has led to a number of failed pregnancies and a 40 per cent mortality rate for calves.

The first September baby was born Sept. 5 to Tahlequah, also known as J35, who gained international recognition in 2018 for carrying her dead calf for 17 days.

The mother of the newest calf is Eclipse, or J41, who gave birth Thursday afternoon a few kilometres from Victoria.

Naturalists Talia Goodyear and Leah Vanderwiel were on an Orca Spirit Adventures vessel headed to Race Rocks when the birth happened.

Goodyear said Eclipse was spotted southwest of Race Rocks.

“She appeared to be alone at the time and stayed very close to the surface for a few minutes,” Goodyear said. “After going under for several minutes, she reappeared and this time it looked like she was pushing something with her rostrum. She surfaced like three or four times.”

At first, there was speculation that the whale was entangled with a buoy or there was a repeat of the 2018 situation with Tahlequah, but then it became clear Eclipse was with a live calf.

Vanderwiel said it appeared to be “a rambunctious little bundle of baby” and very playful.

“It was an emotional time as we processed what was happening in front of us,” she said. “It took a few minutes to realize what was actually happening, but then it was pure excitement realizing it was a birth and the baby was alive and very boisterous.”

Ken Balcomb, executive director of Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research, said it is too soon to determine the status of the calf “and further observations are necessary before we’ll make an announcement of the new baby’s health.”

The Pacific Whale Watch Association’s Kelley Balcomb-Bartok said this week’s birth is “very cool.”

“There’s a whole other round of good news for a change.”

He said researchers knew Eclipse was pregnant but did not know when the birth would happen.

Balcomb-Bartok said it takes one to two years for a calf to turn a corner on whether it will survive or not.

Tahlequah’s calf was identified this week as a male and Balcomb-Bartok said the hope is that the new one will be a female.

“These are matrilineal societies,” he said. “Females are going to produce four, five, six calves over the decades.”

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