I wanted to share this great photo by Candice Emmons of the new
baby orca in J pod. She and Brad Hanson spotted the new calf
between Kingston and Edmonds on Saturday. Thanks to Candi for the
shot and to Brad for the nice description of the encounter, which I
reported in a story to be published in
tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun.
The new calf in J pod, designated
J-48, is seen here in this photo taken by Candice Emmons between
Kingston and Edmonds
Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NMFS Permit
By Christopher Dunagan
KINGSTON — A newborn killer whale has been spotted and confirmed
in J pod, one of the three pods of orcas that frequent Puget
The new calf, designated J-48, was observed Saturday between
Kingston and Edmonds by Brad Hanson and Candice Emmons of the
Northwest Fisheries Science Center. J and K pods arrived in
Admiralty Inlet west of Whidbey Island on Friday and stayed off the
northeast corner of the Kitsap Peninsula for most of Saturday.
“Normally when they are traveling, they are spread out,” Hanson
said, “but this time they were fairly grouped up. Our first thought
was that they couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to
As Hanson and Emmons identified one whale after another from
their markings, they noted one group of orcas off by itself. Among
the group was a 39-year-old female, J-16 or “Slick,” along with
several of the offspring she has had since 1991. And right in the
middle of the group was what appeared to be a newborn orca.
“The calf was pretty young and still had its fetal folds,”
Hanson said. “I would say it had been born in the last 24 hours or
The whales kept milling about and swimming in circles just north
of the Kingston-Edmonds ferry lanes.
“They were probably waiting around for the calf to figure things
out and get with the program,” Hanson said. “It takes a little time
for the mom and her calf to get their footing. The young calves
sort of throw themselves up in the air. They are learning to breath
and to clear the water.”
Hanson said he noticed that kind of milling behavior when
another killer whale was born several years ago.
This was the fifth calf for Slick, named after rock singer Grace
Slick, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, an organization
that keeps track of whale sightings throughout the region.
Every whale counts, he said, because the three Southern Resident
pods are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and
considered at risk of extinction. J-48 brings the number of orcas
in J pod to 27 and the total for all three pods to 89. Researchers
believe the pods may have totaled about 200 whales in the past.
The new baby is only the second orca born to the three pods in
2011, compared to six for 2010. Of those born last year, four were
in L pod, with one each in J and K pods.
Orca Network’s Susan Berta said Saturday’s encounter was the
result of shore observers in the area reporting their
“This is one of the times when the public information really
helped us,” Berta said. “People told us the whales were coming in,
and we were able to get the call to NOAA Fisheries, and Brad and
Candi were able to get with them right away.”
The whales have not stayed in Puget Sound much this year
compared to previous years, Hanson said.
“Every time the whales do come in, we try to get out,” he said.
“We are still monitoring their foraging activity in the sound. We
hadn’t been out with them in quite a while.”
Hanson and other researchers have shown that the orcas eat
mainly chinook salmon in the summer and chum salmon in early fall.
But what they eat the rest of the year — especially from January
through May — remains largely a mystery.
Besides identifying the animals on Saturday, Hanson and Emmons
were able to collect fish scales and samples of fecal material to
help identify what they are eating.
Shortly after the two researchers visited the whales Saturday,
the animals headed back out of Puget Sound, and no further reports
have come in, Berta said.
“Some years we have a lot of whales coming in and other years we
don’t,” she noted. “It brings up many questions about what makes a
good year for whales. I’m hoping they come back for Christmas.”
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