A new calf has been born to the critically endangered southern resident killer whales, researchers confirmed.
The calf was born to L77, said Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research. He confirmed the birth in a text to the Seattle Times on Friday. He estimated the calf is several weeks old.
Center staff first saw the calf Friday morning at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“It’s great news,” Balcomb said, adding the calf looks healthy.
It is the first known birth to the southern residents since Tahlequah, or J35, gave birth to a calf in July that lived only a half-hour.
Tahlequah drew worldwide attention when she carried the dead infant for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, refusing to let it go.
Any birth in the southern resident population is big news because the orcas that frequent Puget Sound in the J, K and L pods are critically endangered. There are only 74 left, with three whales lost last year.
The center also was observing K25 Friday, a southern resident whale known to be in poor body condition. If conditions allow, the center is attempting to get an update on that whale’s status.
K25 is doing poorly after the death of his mother K13 in 2017. Mother orcas preferentially feed their sons and K25 has been getting thinner and thinner.
J17, Tahlequah’s mother, is also so thin as to cause similar concern.
Balcomb cautioned about getting too attached to the baby whale as survival rates are about 50 percent. The southern residents have not successfully reproduced in three years.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.