Months After a Sad Loss, New Hope for Orcas

A calf arrives, though odds of survival aren't good
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2019 8:58 AM CST
Fresh Face, Fresh Hope for Struggling Orcas
Southern resident orca calf L124 swims in the Puget Sound on Jan. 11.   (Center for Whale Research)

Welcome L124 or "Lucky"—a new calf spotted among the struggling southern resident orca population. The 75th member of the group, perhaps up to a month old, appears happy and healthy following its first sighting at the north end of Puget Sound in Washington state on Jan. 11, reports the New York Times. Of course, any hesitancy to celebrate is justified. The group's last calf died shortly after birth in August, prompting its mother to carry the body for 17 days. If there was an upside to the heartbreak, it was that people around the world realized the uncertain fate of the endangered orcas. Now, they and researchers are crossing their fingers for L124. "I wish I could say that the odds are good, but … in the last three years, every calf that's been born has died," says Melisa Pinnow of the nonprofit Center for Whale Research.

"It'd be like living in a tiny little town where nobody knows why all the kids are dying," adds biologist David Ellifrit, per the Times. After a three-year-old female starved to death in September, L124—seen with suspected mother L77—is "a bright spot, for sure," even more so if the calf turns out to be a female who could deliver future offspring, he says. The 35 members of the southern resident L pod certainly seemed uplifted by the arrival of the calf, who has a 60% chance of living longer than 28 days, per KING 5: they were seen popping out of the water and slapping their tails. Over in J pod, Pinnow says the mother of last year's deceased calf may soon lose her mother, J17, who is visibly weak and hungry. A whale in the third and final pod, K pod, has also grown thin. Per the CBC, two whales (it's not clear if it's the aforementioned two) are expected to starve by summer. (Pollution is a key problem.)

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