3 min read

New Baby Orca Birth Gives Hope For Endangered Whales

<p> <a href="http://www.whaleresearch.com/#!J51%20and%20J19/zoom/c18me/image_usd">Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research</a> </p>

A new orca whale calf has been seen swimming in the waters off Washington State, giving hope that the dwindling population could rebound after all.

(Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)

The calf, dubbed J51 by researchers, is the second baby to be seen in two months, following the sighting of another calf, dubbed J50, in late December. The addition of the two young whales brings the population of Southern Resident Killer Whales to 79.

The calf is about 1 week old, according to the Center for Whale Research, which spotted the addition on Thursday. The whale's mother is likely a 36-year-old whale called J19. J19 and her 10-year-old daughter, J41, were seen swimming along on either side of the calf.

(Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)

While the addition is heartening to conservationists and whale lovers, the orcas' numbers "can change anytime with the birth or death of one of these charismatic whales," the center points out in a statement. The population is considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has been threatened by many pressures over the past few decades. In the 1960s and 70s, at least 200 orcas were captured in the Pacific Northwest for captivity in marine parks like SeaWorld. Toxic contamination in the area and a lack of Chinook salmon, their primary food source, could prevent them from reproducing.

But now, the new baby has orca enthusiasts celebrating - and hoping that the calves are the first of many more.

(Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)