A new endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale calf that was first spotted in Tofino in late May has finally received its gender and identification designation by whale researchers.
The baby whale was first seen off the coast of Tofino on May 30th, and since then has been moving south east to the San Juan Islands with its mother and a group of three other adult female orcas from J-Pod.
While the orca calf, now designated J56, was first spotted over two months ago, its appearance near the San Juan Islands is the first time that its underside was photographed, which whale researchers have used to determine that J56 is a girl.
“Near Pile Point, San Juan Island, the new mother J31 swam around in circles with her new calf and three other young females – it looked very much like they were showing off this new addition to the population,” said the Centre for Whale Research in a statement.
“This is a very welcome addition to this endangered population of whales that has experienced so much bad news recently with whales appearing skinny and passing away.”
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Making their way down south
The baby calf, her mother, and the three accompanying female orcas were first spotted in Tofino on May 30th.
According to researchers, J56 was only days old when she was first seen.
“…the baby still had fetal fold creases on its side, indicating that it was probably born less than a week earlier,” said the Center for Whale Research.
After the calf’s initial appearance, the baby and its entourage were seen again by a Tofino-based whale watching group on June 9th, marking their journey towards the San Juan Islands.
The calf’s mother, J31, is a 24-year-old Southern Resident Killer Whale whose previous birthing, in January 2016, was unsuccessful. In the past ten years, she has had no other recorded pregnancies.
Around this time in 2018, a mother orca whose calf died shortly after being born near Clover Point, Victoria, made headlines after she carried her child’s body in mourning through the ocean for 17 days.
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As of may 2019, the Center of Whale Research estimates that there are 76 Southern Resident Killer Whales in British Columbia.
The species is considered endangered by Environment Canada.