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Happy New Year, Baby Orca J-48


Members of J pod in the Pacific Northwest

Keep baby J-48 in your thoughts this Holiday weekend. She’s the third calf to be born to the extended family of orcas (killer whales) known as the J pod.

The J pod is one of three groups – J, K, and L – who make their home in and around Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle. The se orcas are all listed as endangered.

The calf, the third to be born this year among the three pods, was first observed last weekend by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers. Her characteristic pinky-orange patches and fetal folds indicated that she was a new-born – probably just hours earlier.

NOAA wildlife biologist Brad Hanson is delighted. “The numbers are slowly creeping up, but they’re still a concern,” he said. “They can drop back down just by losing a couple of animals.”

There are currently 89 orcas in all three groups.

J-48’s mother is 39-year-old J-16, known to local watchers as Slick. And Susan Berta of the Orca Network is optimistic that the youngster will thrive, since Slick’s previous four calves are all doing well.

The three pods, known as the Southern Residents, eat only Chinook salmon, which are heavily contaminated with PCB’s and other chemicals and run-off, all of which collects in the orcas and can harm the youngsters.

“The first calf always gets the biggest off-loading of toxic chemicals so this one should be getting pretty clean milk,” Berta said.

Pollution and noise are other major factors in the challenges faced by the orcas.

Earlier this year, the oldest of the J family, known as Grandma J-2, passed her 100th birthday.

More about the newborn from the Orca Network here.