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Another baby orca! Researchers confirm second birth for southern resident killer whale pod

A second baby orca has been born to J pod, one of three pods that make up the endangered southern resident killer whales that travel the inland waterways of the Salish Sea.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Centre for Whale Research, confirmed with CBC Friday that the new calf was born Sept. 24 to mother J41.

According to a release from the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), the expectant mother gave birth to her newest baby just miles off the Victoria, B.C., waterfront.

The new member of the pod is the second addition this month, following the birth of baby boy J57, who is believed by researchers to have been born on Sept. 4 to J35.

Balcomb said it is too soon to know if the new calf is male or female.

The birth of the baby was witnessed by professional naturalists Talia Goodyear and Leah Vanderwiel, along with everyone aboard the Orca Spirit Adventures vessel Pacific Explorer, confirmed the PWWA.

‘It was an emotional time as we processed what was happening in front of us,’ said naturalist Leah Vanderwiel, who witnessed the birth of the new calf Thursday. (Talia Goodyear/Orca Spirit Adventures/Pacific Whale Watching Association)

‘Rambunctious little bundle’

“She was aiding the baby up for a few breaths with her rostrum, at which point the little one started surfacing on its own,” Vanderwiel said in a statement.

“It appeared to be a rambunctious little bundle of baby, as every surface was exaggerated and playful,” she added.

In an email to CBC, Tim Francis shared a photograph of the calf he shot moments after watching the birth.

“We were told that we saw it take its first breath,” wrote Francis.

Tim Francis shot this picture Sept. 24 from a whale watching boat of what he believes is the newest addition to the J pod whale family. (Tim Francis)

While Goodyear and Vanderwiel were certain that the new mother was J41, and believe they witnessed the calf’s first breaths, their photographs were sent to whale researchers to confirm their identities.

Balcomb gave them the confirmation they needed.

“We’re very pleased to see that J41 has had her baby,” Balcomb said in a statement, adding it’s too soon to make an announcement about the new baby’s health.

Newborn killer whale J57, the first J pod calf born in September, swims beside his mother off the coast of Washington state on Sept. 22, 2020. (Sara Hysong-Shimazu/Maya’s Legacy and the Pacific Whale Watch Association)

Prior to the new September babies, the last healthy calf born to the southern residents was in May 2019.

The southern resident killer whales, which include pods J, K, and L are listed as endangered on the Canadian government’s species at risk registry.

The orcas have no natural enemies but face threats to their survival from pollution and climate change.

For more on the threats to the southern resident killer whales and the efforts to save them, check out CBC British Columbia’s original podcast Killers: J pod on the brink, hosted by Gloria Macarenko. 

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