New Orca calves

New Births for the Resident San Juan Islands’ Orca Whales!

Breaching Killer Whale in the San Juan Islands

In a little over a year, things have gone from bleak to “more promising” for the Northwest’s endangered killer whales. The Center For Whale Research says that in 2008, eight Orcas in the three pods, J, K, and L, that make up the southern resident population in Washington and southwest British Columbia went missing and were presumed dead.  This included two females of reproductive age and the 98-year-old- matriarch of K Pod. Among the three pods there was only one surviving birth that year. This dropped the total of the J, K and L pods to 82 as of December 2008.

This past year, these pods have bounced back with six new babies and one new baby in 2010 bringing their population up to 89 whales. Experts think this increase might be the result of a good salmon run year. “We’re all very happy to see so many births,” said Susan Berta of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network. “We’re all hoping that they find lots of fish to keep them healthy and keep the mothers in good condition so they can feed the calves,” she said. The diet of the southern resident whales consists of primarily (about 80 %)  Chinook salmon. Many of the Chinook salmon runs are also listed by the feds as either threatened or endangered depending on the river. The smaller the number of available salmon, the farther the Orcas have to forage for sustenance.

Even though this was a tremendous  year for the southern resident whale population it does not mean they are in full recovery mode. Other threats to their health need to be addressed such as cleaning up the marine environment and eliminating toxic chemicals in the waters that are stored in the whales’ bodies. Hopefully with our help these animals can truly be on the road to recovery.

Join Outdoor Odysseys this summer as we kayak and explore the San Juan Islands and, with a bit of luck, observe  these magnificent animals!

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