Satellite date from J27 of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
Satellite data from J27 of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

On 12 February, we heard the news that another Southern Resident Killer Whale calf had been sighted, swimming with J-pod’s J19 (Shachi) and J41 (Eclipse) by its side! After the birth of J50, just seven weeks ago, this is wonderful news for our local Southern Resident Killer Whales whose population was sitting at just 77 before the two new calves arrived!  This new arrival is known as J51.

The Centre for Whale Research estimated the young calf to be approximately one week old when it was sighted on the west side of San Juan Island, travelling north up the Haro Strait. It has also been speculated, that due to that her age and behaviour (continuously swimming very close to the calf), thirty-six year old J19 (Shachi) is the calf’s mother. It is possible that her ten-year-old daughter, J41 (Eclipse), also seen swimming alongside the calf, could be the mother, however, this is much less likely due to her young age. Generally, female Southern Resident Killer Whales reach sexual maturity at 15 years of age, so we can perhaps expect a calf from J41 in the next few years.

Reports from the afternoon whale sighting confirmed that the calf looked healthy and was doing some long dives. However, as we are well aware, the mortality rate is extremely high during the first six to seven months of life, with between 37–50% of all calves dying. We are hopeful that J19’s experience as a mother gives this little calf a fighting chance for a long and healthy life.

The other thing on everyone’s mind is the sex of young J51. Currently, it is not known if the calf is male or female. To determine the sex of a calf, it must be sighted and photographed rolling on the surface of the water. Upon inspection of the photographs, it is possible to see whether the calf has either: a elongated white pattern around its genital slit stretching towards the tail, making it a male, or, a more rounded white pattern with visible mammary slits, which would make it a female. We’ll be sure to let you know the sex of the little calf as soon as we find out!

While the winter months are not considered to be an optimal time for whale watching, we are optimistic that we will have the chance to view the new calf over the next few weeks. Our optimism partially lies with the fact that J27’s (Blackberry) satellite tagging data has given us an excellent insight into J-pod’s travel patterns this winter, and from the looks of it, J-pod is almost exclusively travelling within the inland waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and up Haro Strait. The data shows us that the whales are very rarely heading out in to the open ocean of the Pacific and this certainly gives us a better chance to find J-pod  on one of our Marine Wildlife Tours!

As we haven’t yet had the chance to meet J51, we don’t have any photos to share, however, we do know someone who has!  Orca Watcher Monika Weiland was out with her camera on February 12 and took some brilliant photos of the little whale. We encourage you to visit her website, and of course we’ll be sure post pictures on our SpringTide Facebook page as soon as we have them!

In the mean time, be sure to keep an eye out on our Captain’s Log to stay up to date with all the latest sighting news from SpringTide!