Orca midwife? Scientists say it may have happened

J16 and new calf J50
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SEATTLE -- Orca experts say it is possible that one or more orcas acted as midwives during the birth of a calf last week.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed the birth of the calf in the J-pod of the endangered southern resident orcas. He also identified the calf's mother as J16.

Each orca is identified by its pod letter followed a number indicating the order of its birth.

On Thursday, Balcomb is questioning whether J16, which has been seen swimming with baby, is the actual mother. He explained that J16 is approximately 43 years old, which is beyond the normal age of a productive female killer whale.

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Balcomb said it's possible the real mother may be J16's daughter, J36.

He also said bite marks on the baby indicate another orca may have helped deliver the baby by pulling it out of the womb with its teeth. He and other researchers believe J16 may be the orca midwife and grandmother to the new orca. Balcomb said J16 may be helping her daughter recover from a difficult birth by babysitting J50.

If the baby survives, it will be the first Southern Resident to do so in the last two years. It also raises the population of the three pods (J, K and L) to 78 and makes up for the loss of a female that died last month along with her unborn baby.