Female newborn killer whale, ‘J50’, provides hope for endangered J pod

J pod yoy

New calf J-50 (Photo: Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research)

An endangered pod of killer whales off the coast of Washington has a new member which could make it the first successful newborn in more than two years.

On December 30th 2014, Ken Balcomb, a scientist at the Center for Whale Research, noticed the newborn orca while monitoring the J pod in the Gulf Island archipelago. The J pod inhabits the waters of the San Juan Islands and Southern Gulf Islands, lower Puget Sound (near Seattle) and Georgia Strait with them being observed in these regions year-round.

The pod have previously been targeted for captivity with more than half of the individuals in the group caught for captive display around 40 years ago. In more recent years they have experienced diminishing supplies of one of their main food source, chinook salmon. This group of orca are considered endangered in both the USA and Canada.

Researchers have now determined that the newborn is a female which is extremely good news since the pod suffered a devastating loss of a pregnant female, named J-32, early December last year. It was particularly worrying since the death resulted in a loss of reproductive potential. This is in addition to another calf dying about a month earlier.

The new orca has been named J-50 and is the 78th orca in the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population.

Between 35-45 percent of newborn killer whales do not survive longer than a year. If J-50 does survive it will be the Puget Sound population’s most successful newborn in approximately two and a half years, providing hope for the endangered J pod.

Healthy prey resources need to be restored to abundant levels to avoid this population becoming extinct. Scientists worry that the critical point for their recovery may already have passed.

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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