It seems cliché to start a post with “WOW,” but sometimes even those of us with a preclusion to prose are left speechless by the circumstances. How do you summarize a year in 600 words? Most of the time you can’t, and you just shouldn’t even try, but 2015 was so spectacular, so uplifting and heart-healing that we need to talk about it.
I’m talking, of course, about the baby boom.
It actually started in December of 2014, when J50 aka Scarlet appeared. She was the first new (surviving) calf since 2012 and everyone was cautiously thrilled. The birth was sensational in more ways than one, as her early life was unusual: she was seen wandering off on her own, it was unclear who her mother was, and she was covered in rake marks (scratches from whale teeth). Researchers eventually put together a hypothesis that she became stuck in the birth canal and her sister (J36/Alki) assisted her mother (J16/Slick) during the birth by pulling her out. This is the first known case of orca midwifery!
Two months later, another J pod birth made headlines with the arrival of J51 in February 2015. J51 aka Nova, is the first calf of J41 aka Eclipse. In contrast with Slick who was the oldest female in the southern residents to have given birth (43), Eclipse is one of the youngest mothers we’ve ever seen in this population. Typically, females have their first calf around 13 or 14, but Eclipse was just 11 when she had her little boy!
Also in February 2015, it was Lpod’s turn! L121 aka Windsong was born to L94 Calypso. Windsong is Calypso’s second calf, and him and his older sister L113 aka Cousteau are regularly spotted playing together!
When Scarlet was born, there was some confusion about who her mother was initially. Because of Slick’s advanced age (for a new mother anyway!), researchers assumed 16-year-old Alki was more likely to be the mother. After careful observation it became clear Scarlet could be none other than Slick’s calf. But, as fate would have it, Alki was also destined to become a mother! In March 2015, Alki had her first calf, a male called J52 and named Sonic.
As we moved into the summer of 2015, everyone was ecstatic. The baby boom was over and we settled into getting to know our new babies. Spunky Scarlet delighted whale watchers from all over the world with her frequent breaches, and the 3 boys Windsong, Nova, and Sonic gave us hope for the future population as the number of adult males had been in decline.
We were all ready to wrap up the another successful season when, surprise! Five more babies, one per month! September 2015 brought us L122; October 2015 it was J53; November 2015 came L123; December 2015 little J54; and finally in January 2016 there was J55. Don’t worry, these guys will get names soon enough. Keep an eye on the Whale Museum website for voting info!
As Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watching Association said, “the Southern Resident orca ‘baby boom’ is starting to sound like a long, sustained rumble, and it certainly is music to our ears.”
It must be acknowledged of course, that these are the live births. J31 aka Tsuchi was observed in early January pushing around a dead neonate calf. Because the residents are rarely under direct observation in the winter, it is impossible to know the number of unsuccessful births that occur. Research indicates that as many as 50% of calf don’t survive their first year.
So while nine successful births in 14 months is certainly reason to celebrate, we’re not counting our calves until they celebrate their first birthday.
Who knows what 2016 will have in store! Only one way to find out. Get out here! We’re running zodiac tours all winter and are the only operator to offer a year-round whale guarantee. If the big boats are more your style, they’re back on the water April 1st. Call to make your reservation today or check us out online!
By Jennifer Dickson