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Orca calf spotted off San Juan Islands, first in K-Pod since 2011

It's estimated the young calf is only a few months old, and its future is still up in the air.

SAN JUAN, Wash. — Orca organizations had been losing hope about the future of a family of Southern Resident Killer Whales knowns as the K Pod. However, on Saturday, the Center for Whale Research shared photos of the newest member of the pod. It's the first calf born into the K Pod since 2011. 

Video shared by the Orca Behavior Institute shows mom and baby off the shores of the San Juan Islands along the Haro Strait on Saturday. The Center for Whale Research said the two were also spotted on the west side of Vancouver Island. 

"It's always a rush of excitement when we see a brand new baby in this endangered population.," said Monika Wieland Shields with the Orca Behavior Institute. 

Shields caught a glimpse of the calf Saturday night. 

"I knew even from a distance when I saw that tiny whale pop up that it was going to be the newest calf and it was super exciting to see it next to K20 who's the presumed mother," said Shields. 

For the first time this summer, members from all three orca pods local to Puget Sound were spotted together in the Haro Strait, but K20 and the new calf, named K45, stood out. It's believe this is K20's first calf in 18 years. 

"We hope that this is a sign that K Pod is turning a corner and that they're able to get enough to eat to successfully reproduce and raise offspring," said Shields. 

"We'd kind of given up. I mean, tentatively, you never give up, but not really sure if K20 would have another calf because it's been so long," said Howard Garrett, the Co-founder of the Orca Network.  

K20 is 36 years old. Garrett said K20 was believed to be a male until she had her first calf in 2004. Garrett hopes the newborn is a female, however, the sex of the newborn is still unknown. 

"The frosting on the cake was at that calf looks good," said Garrett. "Where an Orca is white, this calf is white and when they're newborn, they're very orangey...when they get that, that nice white tone, that's a good sign that they're developing well" 

It's estimated the young calf is only a few months old. It's future is still up in the air and the next several months will be crucial for survival. From a distance, researchers will be keeping a close watch. 

"We're looking for energy levels. We're looking to see if that little calf begins to explore a little bit," said Garrett, "Of course, mom will keep very close tabs and call baby back if there's any need, but just to see if there's, you know, a lot of spark in that little calf." 

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