Pregnant orca in J pod appears to have lost her baby, scientists say

Pregnant orca in J pod appears to have lost her baby, scientists say
Orcas J-46 and J-53 (Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)

A day after a new orca calf was reported to have been born into the L pod, it appears J-46 in the J pod may have lost her calf, scientists say.

The Orca Network said that in October 2020, J-46 appeared to be “very pregnant” in a photo taken off the coast of Point Robinson, but seems to have lost that girth, recent drone footage revealed.

“Reproductive failure has been the main factor resulting in the decline of the Southern Resident orca population,” the Orca Network told KIRO 7.

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They said pregnant orcas are eating for two while carrying a developing calf for 18 months. Calves are usually 8 feet and 400 pounds at birth, which requires the pregnant mothers to take in a lot of calories, but the low availability of Chinook salmon appears to be an issue, among other problems, researchers said in part.

A 2017 study of hormone levels found in orca fecal matter showed that “between 2008 and 2014, up to 69% of all detectable pregnancies were unsuccessful; of these, up to 33% failed relatively late in gestation or immediately post-partum, when the cost is especially high,” according to the Orca Network.

Researchers point to the four lower Snake River dams, which they said have caused the “extinction” of the Chinook salmon, which are a vital source of food for the orcas.

Last July, KIRO 7 reported that Tahlequah, the orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days and more than 1000 miles, was pregnant again.

Almost exactly two years ago in 2018 Tahlequah gave birth to another calf that only survived for half an hour.

The incident touched hearts around the world.

Tahlequah’s loss and the plight of a young orca, J-50, who starved to death, led to the creation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force.