The endangered population of orcas known as the Southern Residents were causing quite a stir in Washington State’s Puget Sound last week, with news helicopters broadcasting 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 on Thursday night, the conversation to figure out what we were seeing was fast and furious – my phone was buzzing with messages. After a particularly rough couple of years for the Southern Resident orca population, we were all desperate for some good news.
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! Given the identification number L124, the new calf (sex unknown) was born to Matia (L77), a 31-year-old female in L pod. CWR added that new baby L124 is Matia’s third known calf, looked healthy and energetic, and is believed to be several weeks old. Finally, some good news!
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.
Then, last autumn, three female orcas – one in each pod: J, K, and L – were observed by researchers to be pregnant and L124 is the first calf to be seen. This is such a welcome relief for all of us in the orca community and a piece of good news for the Southern Residents. Even the orcas themselves seem to be celebrating, with members of all three pods seen socialising and in close contact with each other last 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 or she has a safe and healthy home to grow up in – with clean and quiet waters and all the salmon they can dream of. A few names have already been suggested for this 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, with your support, we promise to do everything we can to help them get there.