Tag Archives: calf

Another New Wild Killer Whale Baby Born to J-pod!

New calf in J-pod, J-51 with her mother, J-19
New calf in J-pod, J-51 with her mother, J-19

This is fantastic news! The Southern Resident orcas have added another new member, first spotted today (2/12/15).
Together with the inclusion to the population of the captive orca Lolita by a recent ruling by NOAA, the population of these endangered whales has inched up to 80 (79 in the wild and one held at the Miami Seaquarium).
The Center for Whale Research reports:

The late December calf, J50, with its J16 family were seen today as well; but, the big news is that J19 and J41 were swimming protectively on either side on another new baby that we estimate is about one week old. This newest addition to J pod is designated J51, and the presumed mother is thirty-six year old J19. Her ten-year old daughter, J41, was also in attendance. The newest baby appears healthy.
This brings us to twenty-six whales in J pod, the most viable pod in the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population of the US and Canada Pacific Northwest. K pod has 19 individuals, and L pod has 34 individuals for a total population of 79 SRKW’s as of today. That number can change anytime with the birth or death of one of these charismatic whales.

Balcomb recently explained the population dynamics of the Southern Resident orcas, and at that time he noted that of the three pods (J,K, and L), J-pod was the one that shows the most promise in helping the population to recover. The video is from the Ways of Whales workshop given by Orca Network.


New Baby Killer Whale, Just in Time for the New Year – J Pod Welcomes New Member! (12/30/14)


New calf with mom, J 16. More photos will be up soon on the BC Tours website!
New calf with mom, J 16. More photos will be up soon on the BC Whale Tours website!

A new calf was spotted among the Southern Resident orcas by BC Whale Tours  and they quickly shared the joyous news.  It looks like the mom is Slick (J 16). This is spectacular news, given the recent tragic death of pregnant Rhapsody (J 32).
The new calf has three siblings Mike (J-26), Alki (J-36) and Echo (J-42), and is born to a successful and experienced mother who is in her 40s (estimated to have been born in 1972).
The population now stands at 78, seriously endangered of collapse given the struggle to find food, and the devastation by captures for the amusement park industry.
A special cause for celebration and a great way to kick off a new year, just a bit early!
UPDATE: First to observe and record the new calf, the Center for Whale Research reports:
New calf, J 50, with her mom, J 16.  Photo courtesy the Center for Whale Research (Dave Ellifrit).
New calf, J 50, with her mom, J 16. Photo courtesy the Center for Whale Research (Dave Ellifrit).

At 1:47 PM  today (30 December 2014) Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research, based on San Juan Island, Washington State, spotted a brand new baby in J pod – an Endangered family of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest.
This exciting discovery brings the Southern Resident Killer Whale census back up to 78 individuals at the end of 2014, and is good news for a population that has had mostly bad news for much of the year. The mother whale is J16, a 43 year old female that has had three surviving calves and two non-surviving calves in her lifetime. The new baby is designated J50, and its sex is not yet known. Babies have to roll over and show their underside to researchers before their sex can be determined, and little J50 did not do that today. Its living siblings are: J26 a 23 year old male, J36 a 16 year old female, and J42 an eight year old female.
The new baby was seen swimming alongside its mom and its eight year old sister (J42) in Swanson Channel, Canadian Gulf Islands, British Columbia, near Thieve’s Bay, South Pender Island. The pod was headed toward Active Pass between Mayne and Galiano Islands by nightfall. We hope to see it again on New Year’s Eve and many times in 2015.
Baby killer whales are about 7-8 feet in length at birth and weigh about 400 pounds. They are born after a seventeen month gestation and nurse for at least a year. It takes until their early teens for females to mature and late teens for males to mature. It is good news that J16, the mother is a proven producer of calves, though her next most recent calf (J48) was born and died in December 2011 in Puget Sound. We are hoping that her oldest daughter (J36) produces a baby in 2015, and that this population of icon whales can begin a turnaround from certain extinction if the babies do not survive.
Ken Balcomb December 30 2014

Slick and her new baby!  Photo courtesy of the Center for Whale Research.
Slick and her new baby! Photo courtesy of the Center for Whale Research.

Humpback Whales Intervene in Orca Attack on Gray Whale Calf (2012)

Please share widely, I am reposting the work I did for Digital Journal here in protest of their treatment of the journalist Elizabeth Batt.  I have asked them to remove my articles but have gotten no reply, so decided to publish it here at the Seattle Post Intelligencer which doesn’t throw its contributors under the bus and who still believe in free press.
MAY 8, 2012
Monterey – In what is probably the first time such an event has been witnessed and recorded, humpback whales appeared to try to intervene when a pod of killer whales attacked a baby gray whale.
Spring is a dynamic time for whale watching in Monterey Bay, California – gray whales are migrating north with calves in tow, blue whales move into the area to feed, and humpback whales return from their winter migration. Transient orcas (killer whales) are also present, as this eco-type of orca utilizes other marine mammals as a primary food source.
Skilled at killing even large whales, they regularly take the calves of gray whales – hard as it is to witness, this is a normal predator/prey relationship. But what occurred on May 3rd, 2012 in full view of whale watchers was nothing short of remarkable.
Gray Whale Calf: this calf was completely exhausted, under attack by the orcas for at least 30 minutes. Its mother is holding it up. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Through the hazy overcast skies, the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat captain John Mayer on the SeaWolf ll, spotted the whales in the distance and knew something unusual was going on. As the boat drew closer to the scene, whale watchers were stunned by what they saw. A pod of approximately nine transient orcas was in the process of trying to separate a new calf from its mother, but what amazed even the seasoned captain and crew was the presence of two large humpback whales which may have been trying to intervene.
Two humpbacks were present throughout the attack, and were joined shortly after the attack ended by five more. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch

The mother gray whale struggled valiantly to save her calf, lifting it out of the water to breathe, but she was no match for the coordinated attack as the orcas repeatedly grabbed the fatigued calf and flipped it upside down to prevent it from breathing. During the half hour that the first group of whale watchers observed the contest for survival, the two humpbacks splashed, ‘trumpeted’, and moved in as close as a body length from the grey whale mother and her calf.

At this point, whale researchers Alisa Schulman-Janiger and Nancy Black arrived on the scene in Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat Pt. Sur Clipper, and continued to observe the unusual encounter for nearly seven hours. Shortly after their arrival the baby whale was killed, and the mother took temporary refuge by their boat before heading towards shore.
Schulman-Janiger said  that first two, then three more humpbacks joined the original pair, and the seven humpbacks “repeatedly followed the orcas, trumpet blowing, tail slashing, rolling, and head raising. They kept returning to the area of the carcass where the orcas were ripping into the blubber of the dead calf”.
A humpback whale follows a subgroup of orcas. This was the most common orientation seen: humpbacks following the orcas (rather than the reverse), sometimes at increased speeds. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Researcher Nancy Black speculated that these humpback whales may have been protecting the carcass, making it more difficult for the orcas to feed, but without underwater cameras it is difficult to be certain.

“What we do know”, said Schulman-Janiger, “is that these humpback whales seemed EXTREMELY distressed: nearly every surfacing over the entire observation period was accompanied by trumpet blows. They even put themselves into potential harm’s way by diving right next to the gray whale mom – where her calf was under attack”. She noted that humpback whales were documented to have rescued a seal from orcas in the Antarctic, and underscored the importance of continuing to protect these whales while we gain more understanding.
Dr. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, is a renowned expert in the cognitive ability of whales and dolphins and she shared her opinion of this remarkable event:

This is apparently a case of humpback whales trying to help a member of another cetacean species. This shows that they are capable of tremendous behavioral flexibility, giving even more credence to reports of cetaceans coming to the aid of human beings. They seem to have the capacity to generalize from one situation to another and from one kind of being to another. Moreover, they seem to sympathize with members of other species and have the motivation to help.
One reason may be that humpback whales, and many other cetaceans, have specialized cells in their brains called Von Economo neurons (“spindle cells”) and these are shared with humans, great apes, and elephants. The exact function of these elongated neurons is still unknown but they are found in exactly the same locations in all mammal brains for the species that have them.
What is intriguing is that these parts of the mammal brain are thought to be responsible for social organization, empathy, speech, intuition about the feelings of others, and rapid “gut” reactions. So the presence of these cells is neurological support for the idea that cetaceans are capable of empathy and higher-order thinking and feeling.
In either case these whales are apparently demonstrating a high level of sensitivity and concern (morality, if you will) that is laudable in any species.

The seven humpbacks sometimes stayed in a very tight group, and other times broke up into subgroups. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch

SeaWorld’s New Orca Calf – a New Low in Their Inbreeding Program

Loro Parque, Spain has announced the birth of a new orca calf…the announcement coming two weeks or so after the calf was actually born. For the second time in two years the mother orca, 10 year old Kohana (who belongs to SeaWorld) gave birth and then proceeded to ignore the baby.  Her first calf, two year old Adan, was bottle reared, and according to sources has had trouble being accepted by the other whales, a fate that is likely to be repeated with the new calf. Both calves are highly inbred (for an excellent explanation of the calf’s lineage, please read this article by Elizabeth Batt).
This video shows the birth and bottle feeding of the new calf, who has been  named “Vicky” ( Nacimiento de Vicky – Loro Parque means ‘Birth of Vicky’ – Loro Parque).

Contrast the life of “Vicky” with that of the new Southern Resident orca calf, J-49. Both calves were recently born to young mothers, but there can be no comparison in terms of the quality of life enjoyed by these two baby whales.  Given SeaWorld’s breeding program, it is likely that ‘Vicky’ will be bred and have her first calf at 8 years old like her mother, and also like her mother, Vicky will most likely reject her own offspring since she will not have learned how to parent.
J-49, on the other hand, is surrounded by a stable and successful family unit.

Little J-49, wild and free with her family. (Center for Whale Research).

A bit of History about the mother: The first catalog quality photograph we have of J37 as a baby was in August 2001, at which time she appeared to be five or six months old. Then, the first photograph we have of J37 with a baby was today, August 6, 2012, so we can assume that the new mother is 11 ½ years old – the youngest confirmed mother that we are aware of in the Southern Resident Community. With a gestation of approximately 17 months she must have been impregnated during or around January 2011 when she was about 10 years old! We had four encounters with J pod in January 2011 and all were with both J and K pods combined and L87. Hence, the father must have been among them at that time. Maybe this is why L87 is hanging around J pod so much!
A little bit about the family: The grandmother of the new calf, J14, is thirty eight years old and is the very productive mother of three living offspring and three that have not made it to the present time. Her first calf, J23 born in 1987, was a male that survived for four years. Her second calf, J30 born in 1995, was a male that survived until December 2011, but went curiously missing all of this year and is presumed dead. J37 is J14’s third calf born in 2001, and J40 (a female) is her fourth calf born in 2004. J14 had a neonate calf (J43) that was seen on one day, 24 November 2007, but it did not survive. Most recently, in March 2009, J14 had another calf, J45 a male, that survives to the present. The new calf of J37 will be designated J49, and it is born into a very productive matriline so we are hoping it fares well. With this birth, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population (SRKW in government jargon) now numbers 86, though that number could change at any time with births and deaths.