May 31, 2019 7:15 pm
Updated: May 31, 2019 7:38 pm

‘A huge relief’: calf born to critically endangered southern resident killer whale J Pod

A newborn orca calf seen swimming with J pod on Thursday.

Credit: John Forde and Jennifer Steven / The Whale Centre
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There is finally some good news for B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whale (SRKW) population.

Whale watchers on the west coast of Vancouver Island have reported sightings of a newborn calf to the SRKW J Pod.

Images of the newborn taken by John Forde and Jennifer Steven were posted to the website of the Tofino Whale Centre on Friday.

A newborn orca calf was seen swimming with J pod on Thursday.

Credit: John Forde and Jennifer Steven / The Whale Centre

“We took a few photos of the whales to send to DFO and the Centre for Whale Research. John noticed a brand new calf with J41,” said a post on the centre’s blog.

“We were both really excited to see the calf was very orange and still had fetal folds. We observed the new calf with J41 and J19.”

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The Whale Centre said it usually sees J Pod once a year, with the last sighting on June 8, 2018.

According to the centre, southern residents usually spend summers in the inshore waters of the Salish Sea.

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Micheal Weiss, a biologist with the Washington-based Centre for Whale Research said if the calf survives, it would bring the struggling southern resident population back up to 76.

“It’s obviously a huge relief,” he said.

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“J Pod hasn’t had a successful calf in a few years. You know, the last calf that was born that we know of in that pod died just, you know, probably a half hour after it was born.”

Weiss said it’s not clear which whale is the calf’s mother yet.

Weiss said researchers remain very worried about the population, which has been on a steady decline for several years.

WATCH: Newborn orca seen swimming with Southern Resident killer whales

Weiss said that’s believed to be tied to declining access to its primary food source, Chinook salmon.

READ MORE: New orca calf spotted swimming with Southern Resident killer whales

“When they undergo nutritional stress because they don’t have enough fish available, the pregnancies tend to fail,” Weiss said.

“First of all, we’re hoping this calf survives. And second of all, we’re hoping that it’s a young female because we really need these females to help start growing the population.”

Weiss said despite the good news, researchers remain worried as orca calf mortality tends to hover around 50 per cent, and with the exception of a calf born to L Pod in January, there have been no successful southern resident births in several years.

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