A baby orca has been born in the L pod of Puget Sound killer whales.
The new orca was photographed Saturday near Port Townsend and confirmed as a new calf by the Center for Whale Research. It has been assigned the number L-113 and is the fourth baby orca spotted this year.
The new arrival brings the population known as Puget Sound southern residents orcas to 86. The population reached 140 or more in the last century, but their numbers have fluctuated in recent decades. They were listed as endangered in 2005.
The orca’s mother is presumed to be L-94, a 14-year-old female named Calypso. If the parentage is confirmed, the baby would be her first calf.
If it is a first-born, chances are not good that it will survive past its first birthday, compared to a female’s later offspring, experts say. That is because females “offload” high levels of toxic chemicals to their first-born, both in the womb and in their milk.
Jami Nagel, a naturalist for Island Adventures, captured a picture of the new calf off Point Wilson near Port Townsend on Saturday, as the pod of whales headed into Puget Sound.
The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that the calf had never been seen before.
“We’re hoping they’ll come back in so we can get another look at the calf,” said Susan Berta of Orca Network. “Sometimes in winter, they’ll make their first jaunt out and then come back in.”
Early Monday morning, orca calls were heard on a hydrophone off Port Townsend, where they presumably were heading out to the ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Berta said.
Just one year earlier in October 2008, scientists reported seven Puget Sound killer whales had gone missing and were presumed dead. It was the biggest decline among the orca population in nearly a decade. The reason for the deaths is unknown, but scientists suspect pollution and a lack of food may be the whales’ biggest problems.
Three other baby orcas were spotted this year: J44 and L112 in February and J45 in March.