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A magnificent sei whale © Christopher Swann

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There is Potentially a New Southern Resident Orca Calf from K Pod!

A hopeful and interesting update on the Southern Resident orcas: in late April, photos and video were taken of part of L and K pods off the coast of Oregon and shared with the Center for Whale Research.  Among the familiar fins of K pod was a special sighting: an extra-small fin trailing close behind Spock (K20), born in 1986.  Could it be a new baby in this endangered community of orcas?!  And not just a new baby, but the FIRST observed living calf in K pod since 2011?

The short answer is: we don’t know yet, but we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) and other Southern Resident orca experts want to observe K pod and the potential new calf in person before confirming. 

Spring is typically when the Southern Residents begin to return to their summer foraging grounds in the Salish Sea, and when CWR begins the bulk of its observations of the whales, so we hope K pod returns to this area soon, new baby in tow.

This sighting is unusual not only for the new calf, which would be the first in over a decade in K pod, but also for the location.  While the Southern Residents have been detected in various locations off the Oregon Coast in every season, they are most often in this area in the winter and early spring.  By April and May they historically move north into summer habitat areas.  But with changes in their “normal” distribution in recent years, the whales have been spending more time in coastal habitats, likely looking for Chinook salmon, their main food.

A new calf in K pod is particularly exciting.  While pregnancies have been observed in this pod in recent years, no living calves have been seen.  Researchers aren’t sure why, but it is known that impacts from contaminants and nutritional stress can affect the health of individual whales, especially their reproductive systems.  If (when?!) the new calf is confirmed, they’re going to have an epic birthday party.

While we wait for news, you can help us make sure the Southern Residents and any new calves have enough to eat in these coastal waters.  Join our call to remove the lower Snake River dams and restore a vital source of food for the Southern Residents.

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