Everyone I know who studies and loves killer whales is pleased to see a continuing series of births among all three pods that frequent the Salish Sea. It’s a good sign to have such a variety, and the calves seem to be surviving at a high rate.
The population is gradually rebuilding itself, with the latest news being a new calf in K pod. Here’s the story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun, which was posted on the website:
FRIDAY HARBOR — A new orca calf has been born in K pod, one of the three groups of killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, experts say.
The young calf, designated K-43, was spotted Tuesday swimming with K-12, presumed to be the mother, according to biologists with the Center for Whale Research. It is the third calf born to the three Southern Resident pods this year.
K pod returned to the San Juan Islands this week by way of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but apparently turned back. All three groups are beginning to settle in for a summer of fishing in and around the islands. J pod and portions of L pod have already arrived, but both pods have been coming and going, apparently not finding many chinook salmon, experts say.
The new whale apparently was spotted by observer Jeanne Hyde on Feb. 21 while K pod traveled with J pod in the San Juan Islands. At that time, the calf could not be positively confirmed, but it now looks to be five months old.
K-12, the new mother, is believed to be 38 years old.
She was a young animal when Ken Balcomb, the center’s director, began to identify individual whales and maintain an annual census. She has two other offspring, K-22 and K-37.
The new birth brings the number of whales in K pod to 20. J pod has 28 whales, and L pod 42. Final counts for this year won’t be made until all the whales have returned.
For the past few years, the Center for Whale Research has been reporting births and deaths as they are observed. It is much easier to take note of births, because the young whales are quite obvious. Deaths are tougher, because it takes time to decide whether a whale is gone for good or just off somewhere else. A good count of the whales traditionally comes in summer, when all three pods are around long enough for Ken Balcomb and his crew to make a complete tally.
As of now, the total count of the three pods stands at 90, according to a running tally kept by Orca Network, based on reports from the Center for Whale Research. That number was last reached in 2004. (See chart by Orca Network.) A recent high of 96 animals was reached in 1996, the year before 19 members of L pod spent a month in Dyes Inlet. If I recall, the number of killer whales was estimated to be close to 200 before the decline brought about by capture for aquariums during the 1960s and early ’70s.