After the news of a brand new baby in the endangered Southern Resident orca community broke last Friday, it has been non-stop excitement. From hearing the news to seeing the first pictures and videos, (including this incredibly sweet image of L124, the newest Southern Resident orca, swimming with L25 (Ocean Sun), the oldest Southern Resident orca (and likely mom of Tokitae)), the week has been thrilling, encouraging, and adorable all at the same time. I am elated and relieved by the news of a brand new calf, but as we move past the initial surge of joy, I’ll confess that I’m still apprehensive and worried for his or her survival.
Let’s face it, the Southern Residents have had a rough few years. The hope raised by all the new calves in 2015 was tempered by the news that most of those new calves were male, which, while still exciting and good news, ultimately doesn’t help with adding more orcas to the Southern Resident population – the females are really more important for that. In fall of 2016, news broke that Granny, then the oldest Southern Resident orca, a movie star and the most famous wild orca, had disappeared and was presumed dead. And this past summer, there were devastating and high-profile deaths of a newborn orca in J pod and the loss of young Scarlet, and the more recent news of two more orcas in poor condition. It has been a very stressful few years for those who love and follow the Southern Resident population.
Aside from the extra concerns of human impacts, calves only have about a 50% chance of surviving their first year of life. The good news is that L124 seems to be off to a good start already! As L77’s (Matia) third calf, L124 will receive lower levels of toxics through nursing – mother orcas metabolize their blubber, where contaminants such as DDT, PCBs, and flame retardants are stored, during gestation and lactation, and newborn orcas, especially first-born calves, receive a concentrated dose of pollutants from their mom. Coming later in the birth order as at least the third-born means L124 will receive lower amounts of these chemicals.
The Center for Whale Research also reports that L124 seems healthy and energetic, and is also already a few weeks old, a good sign when nearly 70% of Southern Resident pregnancies in recent years have failed due to nutritional stress. That startling statistic underscores the need to address the threats to this fragile population, particularly the lack of their primary food – Chinook salmon. The orcas rely on salmon from rivers large and small in the Pacific Northwest and California, and need more salmon throughout their range to support them at all times of the year.
Coming up soon, we’ll be working with partners in the Pacific Northwest to strengthen and enact recommendations from the Washington State Task Force, including actions to restore habitat, recover salmon, reduce pollution and noise, and protect the area from oil spills – stay tuned for more news and how you can be involved!
With new life comes new hope and inspiration, and L124 has reinvigorated my dedication to this struggling population. Despite all the ups and downs of the past few years and the knowledge that he or she has a tough road ahead, we must keep up the hard work to ensure this little calf grows up healthy, strong, and surrounded by their family – wild and free.
Find out what we can do: