Researchers have confirmed three new orca calves, in a promising sign for the southern resident orcas, the killer whales that haunt the seas of Washington and British Columbia. At least one of the calves is a newborn—no more than a few days old. That makes five new orcas in 2005, and seven since last October, one of the biggest population increases since the whales have been closely monitored. The Kitsap Sunreports.
Of special importance, two of the new calves were born to the L-pod, the largest of the three southern resident pods. Population losses in the L-pod account for the entirety of the orca’s population drop from recent highs in 1995 to the present, but it looks like L is starting to regain lost ground.
There are currently 90 orcas in the southern residents (not counting Luna, the young whale stranded in BC), though official population counts are not taken until the end of the calendar year. The first months are the toughest for newborn whales, so it remains to be seen if all 5 new orcas will survive. But even a population increase of 1 would bring them to their highest number since 1998.
It’s also important to remember that while the new baby boom is a welcome development, the southern resident populations are severely depressed. Perhaps 3 times as many resident orcas prowled Puget Sound and the Georgia Basin before Europeans arrived in the Northwest. Their fate is closely linked to our impacts on the region.