Southern resident orca Tahlequah, who gained worldwide fame after carrying her dead calf for 17 days, has given birth again.
“I just think it’s fantastic. The orcas are in trouble. We need them to have babies, and we need to do our part to take care of the water,” said Marie Flake of West Seattle.
According to the Center for Whale Research, Tahlequah, also known as J35, likely gave birth on Friday to new calf J57. Researchers announced that Tahlequah was pregnant in July.
“Heartbreaking. You felt for her. It was like visible grief,” said Linda Cowan of Auburn.
“Now to find out the mother has given birth and out here with this young one is extraordinary. Absolutely fantastic,” said Mike Graddon of Buckley.
The baby orca, which does not have a name yet, was spotted for the first time on Saturday by researchers with the Center for Whale Research.
The new calf appeared “healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.”
Scientists know J57 wasn’t born on Saturday because her dorsal fin was upright, which normally takes a day or two to straighten out after birth. They have assigned its birthday as Friday, Sept. 4.
A majority of orca pregnancies in recent years have not been successful for a variety of reasons.
A lack of access to Chinook salmon has been one environmental factor that has concerned marine biologists and has led to decades of work to return salmon runs to the region. The amount of noise in the region’s waterways is another concern. Orcas use echolocation to track salmon and communicate with one another.
In recent weeks, boaters have been put on notice by orca advocacy groups that they’re driving too close to orcas and endangering them.
Amy Bliss-Miller, with Salish Wildlife Watch, hopes this new baby gets people to pay attention to the problems facing the endangered orcas.
“It brings more, even more of a focus into the fact that they can’t find food. There’s a shortage in salmon. And there’s also a problem with too many boats around them,” said Bliss-Miller.
While the birth of J57 is big news, it doesn’t mean that the new calf is out of the woods yet. Many orcas die during birth, but those that survive still have a 40% mortality rate.
The new addition to the southern resident orcas increases the population to 73.
“Hopefully, there will be more. We’ll have to have a shower,” laughed Flake.
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