J54 & J28 Haro Strait, 12-16-15, Dave Ellifrit/CWR
More baby news to share! Three new calves were born to the Southern Residents since our last update.
This brings the total to 9 calves since December 2015. Of the 5 whose genders are known J50 is the only female - the 4 newest J53, L123, J54 & J55’s genders have yet to be determined.
Thanks to our Whale Sighting Network, we were alerted to the presence of a large pod off Vashon the morning of November 10, 2015. It was while watching Ks and Ls a short time later off West Seattle, Orca Network staff and a long time volunteer noticed and documented a new calf. We followed the protocol we have in place with the Center for Whale Research and NOAA Fisheries to not announce the new calf until confirmed by researchers, and December 6, 2015 the new calf was seen and confirmed by CWR and announced. L123 is the first offspring of L103 Lapis.
Ten days later, December 16, CWR staff announced the birth of another calf, this one designated J54 born to J28 Polaris. J54 was first seen on December 1st by one of the whale watch captains off San Juan Island and was officially confirmed by CWR staff when Js showed up in Haro Strait on December 16th.
Then along comes sweet little J55 first seen in Puget Sound on January 18th. Our Whale Sighting Network alerted NOAA-NWFSC researchers to the presence of orcas traveling northbound from the Seattle area. Fisheries staff caught up to the pod just north of Seattle off Edmonds where sadly they first discovered and were able to document J31 Tsuchi pushing around a deceased neonate. A short time later in Admiralty Inlet they caught up with a lead group where they discovered a 2nd healthy newborn traveling alongside J14 Samish and her daughter J37 Talequah. CWR confirmed and designated the new calf as J55 and will need at least one or more encounters before they can determine maternity.
On December 31st, thanks to our Whale Sighting Network, Southern Resident orcas were sighted, reported, and tracked by our staff and volunteer network, enabling NOAA Fisheries' Brad Hanson and crew to get out with the whales to confirm we had K pod in Puget Sound. This sighting allowed NOAA Fisheries to deploy a satellite tag on K33, providing tracks of K pods' travels from then through January 27th, giving us information useful in NOAA's designation of critical habitat and prey needing protection to help the Southern Residents. You can view these maps and continued updates at the NOAA-NWFS 2016 Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging website.
The abundance of Humpback whales in the inland waters of the Salish Sea continued well into January. Reports of at least 2-3 humpbacks feeding off the newest hot spot, Eglon, north Kitsap Peninsula, by Sighting Network staff and volunteers and the many residents and beach goers became a near daily ritual the first few weeks of January. One photo in particular by Toby Black (see below) caught the attention of our volunteer Sara Hysong-Shimazu who noticed an anatomical feature known as a hemispherical lobe indicating a female, which we were able to confirm with Dr. Fred Sharp, research biologist at the Alaska Whale Foundation. This female has been widely photographed in this area on a regular basis since September 2015. Our data has been used by Cascadia Research in Olympia, and the Alaska Whale Foundation, as well as the Center for Whale Research and other agencies, to document the recolonizing of Puget Sound by humpbacks.
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L123 & family, 11-10-14, Sara Hysong-Shimazu
J55 & family in Puget Sound 1-18-16, NOAA/NWFSC
NOAA sat tag Jan. 31st map, Brad Hanson, NOAA-NWFS
Female humpback off Eglon 1-8-16, by Toby Black
Two humpbacks off Eglon, 1-2-16, by Steve Smith
Breaching Humpback, Eglon, 12-29-15, Stu Davidson