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This dead right whale calf had injuries consistent with a vessel strike, including fresh propeller cuts on its back and head, broken ribs, and bruising. Photo: FWC/Tucker Joenz, NOAA Fisheries permit #18786

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A New Calf Provides Hope for Endangered Southern Resident Orcas

Sara Hysong Shimazu (Hysazu Photography)
Sara Hysong Shimazu (Hysazu Photography)

GOOD NEWS - A new baby orca!

On March 1st, observers with Washington State-based Center for Whale Research and Orca Behavior Institute were watching members of J pod of the Southern Resident orca community off San Juan Island and spotted a tiny dorsal fin amongst the more familiar orcas

The Center for Whale Research, which maintains the official census for the Southern Resident population, confirmed the birth of a new calf to Hy’Shqa (J37).  This new baby is designated J59 as the 59th official member of J pod and joins brother T’ilem I’nges (J49) as part of Hy’Shqa’s growing family.

The Center reports that J59 (sex unknown) appears to be in good condition and is the first new calf in J pod since September 2020 and first in the whole population since February 2021, when Element (L125) was born in L pod.  New calves are usually given nicknames that follow family “themes” and are voted on by the public; however, this particular family group – known as the J14s after family matriarch Samish (J14) – is traditionally given names by the Samish Nation, which has deep ties to J pod in particular.

*Bonus heartwarming content: listen to this recording of J pod orcas being very chatty on March 1st – perhaps celebrating the new arrival’s first visit to their home waters?

Hysazu Photography

Take action to help Southern Resident orcas


Two other female orcas in J pod who were reported to be pregnant last fall, J19 and J36, have likely lost their calves.  They have not been seen with calves, and drone images collected by researchers with SR3 indicate they are no longer pregnant. 

With a high rate of pregnancy loss in the Southern Resident population – nearly 70% - there was a very real chance that all three of these pregnancies could have failed.  While it’s heart-breaking to lose two calves, and we cannot even begin to imagine or understand how the orcas themselves process these losses, I still find myself breathing a sigh of relief that at least one calf made it through.

In recent years, deaths have outnumbered births in the Southern Resident community as the orcas have increasingly felt the compounding effects of multiple threats: a lack of food, pollution, and human activity in their home waters. 

The high rate of miscarriage has been linked to inadequate nutrition for expectant orca mothers, preventing the population from recovering.  At the same time, they are weathering more losses as orcas both young and old succumb to the numerous pressures they face.


J59 has given us a silver lining around the news of these pregnancy losses, and I am grateful that the whales who were pregnant but lost their calves are still alive.  While threats to the population seem overwhelming, we know what they are, and we know how to fix them.  More salmon by restoring free-flowing, healthy watersheds.  Clean water by improving how our land and water is managed.  A peaceful home by slowing boats down, reducing underwater noise, and respecting their space.

We have made progress, which I hope has helped bring healthy new calves to the Southern Residents in recent years – but we still have a long way to go.  We need your voice to continue speaking up for these orcas to put pressure on decision makers to act to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive.


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1 Comment

  1. Jessica on 03/03/2022 at 12:53 pm

    This is amazing news! I can’t wait to hear more updates!

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