Center for Whale Research Statement: Killer whale calf J60 missing

Submitted by The Center for Whale Research

The Center for Whale Research is sad to report that the youngest member of J pod, J60, was missing during our most recent encounter with the pod. On January 27, CWR researchers conducted a photo ID survey of J pod in San Juan Channel (Encounter #8). During the encounter, photos were obtained of all other members of the pod, including all potential mothers for J60, but J60 himself was not seen. Given his young age, it is extremely unlikely that J60 was off on his own for the entire duration of the encounter. While our protocols require at least three full censuses of the group to confirm mortality, we now believe that J60 is likely deceased.

Given the calf’s association patterns and the pregnancy status of J pod females in late 2023, J42 was the calf’s most likely mother, however given the calf’s varied social partners in early life this will enter our dataset as a “probable” relationship.

Female J46 was also heavily pregnant in late 2023, however, she was not as consistently associated with the calf as J42. This would have been the first observed calf for either female.

The mortality rate for young calves, especially those born to first-time mothers, is very high in the southern residents. This is due both to the generally poor nutritional status of southern residents, and the transfer of toxins from mother to calf during gestation and lactation. The southern residents need abundant, large Chinook salmon if they are going to be able to raise their calves to maturity and keep the population going.