SEATTLE -- The death of a baby southern resident orca is part of a trend that doesn't bode well for survival of the endangered pods.

On the same day the "L" pod thrilled whale watchers with a late season visit to the waters near Vashon Island, researchers announced the death of L-120, an orca born seven weeks ago.

L-120 apparently died while its pod was in the open ocean off Washington or British Columbia, the Center for Whale Research said.

The pod was offshore for a week to 10 days, and the orca designated L-120 might have been lost in a storm in the middle of last week, researcher Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said.

No orca births were recorded last year and it's been three years since the J, K and L pods produced a baby that survived more than a year.

The southern resident population has dipped to 78, which is less than it was in 2005 when NOAA added the southern resident orcas to the Federal Endangered Species List.

Researcher Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island said to be healthy the southern resident pods need to produce four or five babies a year. He believes a lack of salmon for the orca to eat is weakening the animals, and if salmon numbers don't improve, the orcas could be in serious trouble.

Other scientists say the orca bodies are so contaminated that the mothers are feeding toxic milk to their babies.

The Puget Sound killer whales primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. Offspring tend to stay with their mothers for life.

Fish runs are much stronger in Hood Canal than they were 30 years ago, according to the Orca Conservancy, but the South Resident Killer Whales haven't rediscovered it since restoration. When food is hard to find, it's hard for lactating females to produce enough milk to support a calf, according to Orca Conservancy.


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The Associated Press contributed to this story.