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Happy News for a Clan of Endangered Whales

Researchers say baby orca around Puget Sound is a girl
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2019 7:30 AM CDT
File photo of a calf born to the pod in 2015. The newer calf born in May isn't pictured.   (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File)

(Newser) – Researchers watching a clan of endangered whales that visit the waters off Washington state saw a welcome sight last week: a baby female calf. The Center for Whale Research already knew of the orca calf's birth in May, but the sighting in July revealed its gender, along with confirmation that the calf had survived her crucial first weeks. The best part: Mama Orca (a 24-year-old named J31) seemed to be showing off the calf (J56) by swimming in circles with her and other young females off San Juan Island, reports the Seattle Times. These whales are part of an endangered clan known collectively as southern resident killer whales, which is made up of three pods: J, K, and L, reports CNN. The calf is the 76th living member of the SRKW population.

"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," the whale researchers write. On that note, two thin whales in the clan, J17 and K25, have not been seen in a while, though it's too early to make any final determinations, notes the Times. Among the whales' troubles: a shortage of food, toxins, dams, and noise from big ships. KING5 notes in particular that a dwindling salmon population has made it the more difficult for female orcas to carry pregnancies to full term. Up to half of all baby orcas die in their first year, so researchers will be keeping a close eye out for J56. (Another calf was born to the larger clan in January of this year, but researchers don't know its gender yet.)

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