Newborn No. 3 bumps population up to 80

A newborn orca calf was sighted Feb. 25 about 15 miles off Westport, Greys Harbor.

Scientists aboard NOAA Fisheries’ research vessel Bell M. Shimada confirmed the sighting of a newborn calf in L-pod.

The calf was spotted Feb. 25 about 15 miles off Westport, Greys Harbor. The vessel was tracking the pod via a satellite tag on L-84.

Dubbed L-121 by the Center for Whale Research, the calf is the second baby born to its apparent mother, 20-year-old L-94.

While the birth of L-121 marks the third baby to join the Southern Resident population in the last two months, survival rate of calves within the first year is 50 percent, according to killer whale biologists.

Does a third newborn in in the first two months of the year signal a baby boom for the Southern residents? Center for Whale Research Director Ken Balcomb says most likely not. Rather, Balcomb said there’s been a more concentrated effort by NOAA and the Center to keep track of the orcas during the winter.

In years past, Balcomb said that the whales were only studied closely during summer months.

“We know they’ve been having babies in the winter before,” he said. “But they weren’t surviving through the summer.”

The birth of L-121 brings the population of Southern Residents up to 80 whales.