Yesterday, the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington confirmed a new calf in L pod, the third for this pod and the seventh for the entire population since December 2014. The critically endangered Southern Resident orca population is divided into three pods: J, K, and L, and has seen a rare “baby boom” this year with six new calves observed in 2015, three in L pod and three in J pod (Scarlet (J50), who set off the baby boom, was born in December 2014). The latest arrival, designated L123, is the first known calf of 12-year-old Lapis (L103). L123 was first observed on November 12th, but CWR was unable to confirm the new addition until recently.
The new calves are certainly cause for celebration, but these endangered whales are still struggling to survive. Before this year, the population had not had a surviving calf in two and a half years, and has lost more than 20 individuals since 2010. Prey scarcity is one of the biggest threats to this population, and with seven new mouths to feed it is more important than ever to ensure the Southern Residents have an abundant supply of their preferred food, Chinook salmon. Chinook can be up to 90% of the Southern Residents’ diet, and their survival is closely correlated with salmon abundance in the Pacific Northwest.