A baby orca was seen swimming with K pod Tuesday, possibly bumping the endangered Southern resident killer whale population to 88.
The bump in the population depends on the calf’s survival in its precarious first year, and on the appearance of K-7, possibly the oldest orca among the J, K and L pods. K-7 was not seen when the pod swam past Snug Harbor Tuesday.
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, said K-7 is believed to have been born in 1910. J-2, also known as “Granny,” is believed to have been born about the same time, give or take a year.
K-7’s status won’t be confirmed until the center is able to have more contact with the pods.
All told, there are 25 whales in J pod, 19 in K pod, and 43 in L. The gender breakdown is about three adult females for every adult male.
The Southern residents are so called because they spend a lot of the year in this region. J is here much of the year, while K and L travel as far as California but return in the summer. Before they were sighted off the west side of San Juan Island June 3, K and L pods were last seen Jan. 27 off Monterey, Calif., and on Feb. 29 off Sekiu, Wash., according to the Center for Whale Research.
On June 3, Center for Whale Research staff members Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Erin Heydenreich observed J, K, and L pods for about four and a half hours off the west side of the island.
“The whales were first reported off the south end of San Juan Island at around 8 a.m., then slowly travelled north up the coast of the island in tight social groups,” they reported.
“Center for Whale Research staff encountered the whales off Bellevue Point as they swam in three large, tight and tactile groups very close to the shoreline. Staff confirmed that members of K pod and L pod were among the playful social groups, though it has not been determined yet if all the whales from the Southern Resident population were present.
“During the encounter a small calf was observed swimming in close proximity to sisters K-14 and K-16, both reproductive age females. Later in the encounter, staff determined that the calf was indeed a new calf in K-pod, and observed the calf primarily traveling very near K-14 and her older offspring K-26 and K-36.”