The Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, which consists of approximately 74 orcas that frequent the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in Washington, officially has a new addition, as confirmed by the Center for Whale Research. J59 is the first calf to be born to the J pod in two years, making it a welcome addition to this endangered population.
The SRKW population feeds exclusively on Chinook salmon, and their survival has been threatened in recent decades by dwindling salmon numbers, underwater noise and pollution. The survival rate for calves has been especially threatened, with approximately one in three surviving. The J pod, which consists of 23 orcas, garnered media attention in 2018 when J35 birthed a calf who died 30 minutes after it was born. The grieving mother carried the deceased calf with her for 17 days.
With this hopeful new addition to the pod comes the troubling news that two other J pod members have lost pregnancies. According to scientists John Durban and Holly Fearnbach of the marine mammal research and rescue nonprofit SR3, J19 and J36 are now displaying decreased body width with no calves present. They claim that this is consistent with the high rate of reproductive loss documented in recent years.