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New Orca Baby Spotted Off Washington Coast

February 26, 2015

When a family of killer whales swam near a small research vessel off the Washington coast this week, the scientists on board were excited by the large number of endangered orcas that they saw. Their excitement grew when they spotted an orange-tint in the water.

A baby calf.

“We saw it again this morning swimming with its mother,” Brad Hanson, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Thursday. “It’s probably just a few days old.”

The newborn is the third calf born in recent months to the southern resident killer whales.

This new baby was born to the “L-pod,” one of the three families of killer whales that live in the Salish Sea.

Hanson, now aboard the NOAA research vessel the Bell M. Shimada, said it’s rare to document an “L-pod” baby at this time of year.

“It’s just a real key to what may be going on in the population,” Hanson said.

The killer whales have had reproductive challenges in recent months, particularly with the “K-” and “L-pods,” Hanson said. A baby born to the “L-pod” in September was lost the following month.

“Prior to that, there hadn’t been a successful calf birth for a couple of years,” Hanson said.

He and his team had been following the killer whales up and down the Washington and Oregon coast, collecting samples to study what fish species killer whales are eating this time of year.

The team had seen a portion of the “L-pod” a little more than a week ago. About 15-miles off the shore of Westport, Washington, the researchers first saw the baby with its mom, L94.

“It looks great, very energetic,” he said.

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