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A pleasant “Surprise” for Southern Resident orcas – a new baby!

SR3, NMFS permit #19091
SR3, NMFS permit #19091

2021 is off to a “Surprisingly” good start… for Southern Resident orcas, anyway.  Following up the exciting announcement of a new opportunity to restore the lower Snake River, a vital source of food for these endangered orcas, the Center for Whale Research has confirmed a brand new baby!!

Welcome to the world, L125!

On February 17th, members of all three pods (J, K, and L) were seen near San Juan Island in Washington State, which is usually the orcas’ summer and fall habitat.  Researchers with CWR confirmed a new calf with L86 (Surprise!), and noted the newest member of the population seems to be in good condition.  As the 125th identified individual in the L pod group, the new baby has been given the scientific designation of L125 and will get a nickname later this year.

Researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service and SR3 were also out with the Southern Residents, part of an ongoing study using drone photography to assess the health of individual orcas in the population, and how their body conditions change between seasons or years – including spotting the tell-tale signs of pregnancies.  Based on the size of L125, they estimate the new calf is 1-1 ½ months old.

Southern Resident Orcas

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CWR also spotted the two new babies born in 2020, Phoenix (J57) and Crescent (J58), and reported they appeared to be doing well.  Phoenix is the son of Tahlequah (J35), whose heartbreaking grief brought worldwide attention to the Southern Residents in the summer of 2018.

This is the fourth known calf for Surprise! (L86).  L125 joins older brother Pooka (106), and sadly two other siblings who did not survive: L120, who lived only a short time in 2014, and Sooke (L112), whose death due to blunt force trauma has long been surrounded by controversy and a lingering suspicion that it was caused by military exercises in the area.

We’re thrilled that Surprise! has a new baby and we hope this little one has a bright future ahead of them.  New calves are good reminders that the Southern Resident orcas are doing what they need to do to survive – living their lives, having babies, and teaching those babies about life in the Southern Resident community.  We need to do our part to make sure they have what they need, especially bringing back their main source of food, Chinook salmon.  Sign up to be an Orca Hero and join the effort to save the Southern Residents.

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