SEATTLE - The newest addition to the Southern Resident orca J Pod is a girl, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) announced.
The CWR said staff confirmed J59 was a girl during a photo-ID and aerial observation survey on May 26. The center said the "whales were very social, with lots of rolling both under and at the surface” during the encounter.
Researchers confirmed J59 was a girl using photos and drone video of her underside captured during the encounter.
J59 was the first calf born into J Pod since September 2020, when J41 gave birth to J58.
The CWR was first made aware one of the whales had possibly given birth on March 1. Photo ID expert Dave Ellifrit found the new whales near Kelp Reef and was able to confirm the newest addition to the J Pod.
J59 had previously been spotted next to J37, with two other whales nearby. J37 was spotted in February and did not have a calf at that time, so it's estimated J59 was born in late February or early March.
In total, J Pod now has 25 members, including 11 adult females, four adult males, six young males, and four young females, which includes J59.
“Having another female is good news for the southern residents; the population’s growth is largely limited by the number of reproductively aged females,” the CWR said in a Facebook post. “While one calf won’t save the population, we hope that J59 can grow to adulthood and contribute to future generations of southern residents.”
J59 is one of two Southern Resident orcas that were recently born this year. A video posted on YouTube in early May shows what appears to be a "very young calf" near K20 off the coast of Pacific City, Ore. The calf would be the first viable baby born into the K pod since 2011 when K44 was born.
With the newest births, the population of endangered southern residents is now 75 — if L Pod whale L89 turns up.
Declining prey populations, contaminants in the ocean and disturbances from noise and vessel traffic all contribute to the decline of the Southern Resident orca population, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Boaters are advised to stay out of the path of orcas, at least 400 yards in front of or behind them and 300 yards on either side.