New L pod calf reported among rare superpod

A new calf was spotted today in L pod. The baby, L119, is the offspring of L77, Matia.
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Hyde via Capt. Jim Maya

UPDATE, June 3

The Center for Whale Research has reported the apparent absence of two additional Southern Resident killer whales as a result of an encounter last Tuesday by center researchers Dave Ellifrit, Erin Heydenreich and Barbara Bender.

In addition to L-112, the 3-year-old female found dead near Long Beach in February, and J-30, a 17-year-old male who has not been seen since December, the research team reported that two older females appear to be missing. They are L-5, estimated at 47, and L-12, estimated at 78. (Their ages are estimates, because the annual census that keeps track of every birth and death began 36 years ago.)

“We will wait for a couple more good encounters with L pod before writing them off to make sure they were not just missed,” the researchers said in their report of the encounter, which also includes 10 photos.

Orca Network has tentatively removed all the missing whales from its list of living orcas, leaving the number of survivors at 85.
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UPDATE, May 31

In a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun, I discuss the new orca baby and what it means to the Southern Resident population. Howard Garrett of Orca Network shares a story about how the three pods seem to make decisions together regarding who will stay in local waters and who will go.

Erin Heydenreich of the Center for Whale Research posted a few observations along with a new photo of the young whale yesterday, including this comment:

“The new calf appeared healthy and vigorous, and we are hopeful that this one will make it.”

As I reported in my story, this is the second offspring for L-77. The first died within weeks of its birth two years ago. What I did not mention is a hypothesis that suggests the first calf born to a Southern Resident female may not survive because of the quantity of toxic chemicals “offloaded” to the baby during pregnancy and nursing.
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UPDATE, May 30, 1:18 p.m.
The Center for Whale Research just posted the following note with a new photo on its Facebook page.

Here is a pic from yesterday of new calf L119 with it’s uncle L41. More whales out today, so the encounter summary and photos will have to wait!

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A new calf was reported in L pod today, as killer whale researchers and observers also celebrated a rare spring sighting of a “superpod,” in which all three Southern Resident pods get together.

The three pods were first reported in the Strait of Juan de Fuca before moving into the San Juan Islands.

Here’s the brief note posted on Facebook by the Center for Whale Research, which keeps the official census of killer whales:

“Great news! New baby in L pod: L77 has a new calf, L119. We just got in from long encounter with J, K,and L pods. The encounter summary and photos of the new calf will be posted tomorrow!”

We’ll check out the center’s website for a more thorough accounting of the whales along with photos.

Jeanne Hyde, a naturalist for Maya’s Westside Charters, shot the photo above while on board the company boat, the Peregrine, with Spencer Domico at the helm. Jeanne, who noted that the mom is known as Matia, has posted many more photos along with some great comments on her blog’s website.

An early report around noon today from the whale-watch company Ocean EcoVentures:

“87 ORCA WHALES TODAY…SUPER POD!!! All three Resident Pods are back in our waters. With an unconfirmed new calf in L Pod… We will wait for the Center for Whale Research’s official report but a new calf that appears to be 2-3 weeks old… WAHOOO!!!”

Orca Network, which keeps careful records of whale sightings, noted that most of the Southern Residents have not been seen since October. After the death of L112, “the report of a new L pod calf is refreshingly great news.”

As usual, Candace Calloway Whiting, offered some notable observations on her blog:

“Their spring visits have been few and far between, with just one L-pod whale, L87, who hangs out with J and K pods, seen in the area until today. Best of all, 25-year-old L77 had a calf in tow, who was given the number L119 … L77 has three other surviving offspring. Welcome back, orcas, we are all rooting for you.”

Today’s arrival of all three pods was a little surprising to me, but it shouldn’t have been. June is just days away, and that’s when my expectations begin to rise rapidly. I think the mild weather this year has disrupted my internal calendar of when I expect things to happen.

Anyway, if the orcas find migrating chinook salmon, I expect we’ll be seeing and hearing more about them in the coming days.

One thought on “New L pod calf reported among rare superpod

  1. UPDATE, June 3

    The Center for Whale Research has reported the apparent absence of two additional Southern Resident killer whales as a result of an encounter last Tuesday by center researchers Dave Ellifrit, Erin Heydenreich and Barbara Bender.

    In addition to L-112, the 3-year-old female found dead near Long Beach in February, and J-30, a 17-year-old male who has not been seen since December, the research team reported that two older females appear to be missing. They are L-5, estimated at 47, and L-12, estimated at 78. (Their ages are estimates, because the annual census that keeps track of every birth and death began 36 years ago.)

    “We will wait for a couple more good encounters with L pod before writing them off to make sure they were not just missed,” the researchers said in their report of the encounter, which also includes 10 photos.

    Orca Network has tentatively removed all the missing whales from its list of living orcas, leaving the number of survivors at 85.

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