Last Thursday, while I was on my way to give a presentation to Oregon’s Midcoast Watershed Council on the connection between Southern Resident orcas and watersheds (and hopefully inspire some whale advocates to dig in to salmon habitat recovery!), my phone started buzzing with messages.
The Southern Residents had been causing quite a stir in Puget Sound, with news helicopters launched to film and broadcast aerial images of the orcas. A few eagle-eyed viewers noticed a particularly small orca swimming amongst the others, but blurry stills and screen-grabs from the news footage made it hard to know for sure if we were seeing a brand new calf. But just a glimpse was enough to stir everyone’s interest, and the conversation to figure out what was being seen was fast and furious on Thursday night. After a particularly rough couple of years for the Southern Resident population, we were all desperate for some good news for the orcas.
On Friday, the Center for Whale Research (CWR), which has maintained the Southern Resident census for over 40 years, confirmed that there was indeed a brand new calf in the Southern Resident community! Designated L124, the new calf (sex unknown) was born to Matia (L77), a 31-year-old female in L pod. CWR added that L124 is Matia’s third known calf, looked healthy and energetic, and is believed to be several weeks old. Finally, some good news! *cue happy dance*
The Southern Resident community has not had a surviving calf in more than three years, after the hopeful “baby boom” of a few years ago that started with the birth of Scarlet (J50) in December 2014. Of the eight calves born who lived long enough to receive official designations from CWR, five are still alive today.
Baby watch for the orcas began last fall, when three female orcas – one in each pod: J, K, and L – were observed by researchers to be pregnant. L124 is the first calf to be seen, a welcome relief for all of us in the orca community and piece of good news for the Southern Residents. Even the orcas themselves seem to be celebrating, with members of all three pods seen socializing and in close contact with each other Friday afternoon – a rare “Superpod” of Southern Residents.
I’m thrilled and relieved by the news of a brand new calf. L124 is an inspiration for me to keep up the hard work to ensure he/she has a safe and healthy home to grow up in – complete with clean and quiet waters and all the salmon they can dream of. A few names have already been suggested for the newest Southern Resident orca, and while L124 won’t receive an official name until later this year, we like the idea of “Promise” – new calves indicate there is still promise for recovery in the population, and we promise to do everything we can to help them get there.
Here’s a video of the L pod of the Southern Residents, including L124, from the Center for Whale Research.